Prime Minister Sam Hinds is living in the real world
Stabroek News
February 15, 2002

Dear Editor,

I note with sadness the letter [ please note: link provided by LOSP web site ] of Mr Oscar Clarke, General Secretary of the PNC captioned "Prime Minsiter seems to be spokesman for GPL" (13.2.2002). In that letter Mr Clarke made a number of comments concerning the Prime Minister which, in view of Mr Clarke's position in his party, I presume represents the opinion of the leadership of that party.

In this letter he accused the Prime Minister of being a virtual spokesperson for Guyana Power & Light (GPL), of emasculating the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) as an independent watchdog in relation to GPL, and of taking what he characterised as "these dubious and indeed scandalous positions" in the face of clear pronouncements to the contrary "in the opposition vein" from the President and Dr Luncheon. He concluded his official diatribe against Mr Hinds by charging that his defence of the new electricity rate increases exposed him as "a tool of the company, rather than a servant of the people" and stated that he should resign or be dismissed.

These remarks shed light on our common political culture, and illustrate a number of conclusions I have come to from observing that culture at work since independence.

Our professional political leaders only live in the real world when they travel outside of Guyana. In Guyana, they engage in a mutual game of pretence. They pretend that our ethnic census is a national mandate. They pretend that our economy is theirs to command and not the IMF's and World Bank's. They pretend that they and they only can decide whether or not to pay the piper after they have commissioned the tune. Both Congress Place and Freedom House live in a self contained paradise of self satisfied ignorance. In their never, never land only they matter.

Meanwhile, the rest of the population - workers, businessmen, professionals, investors, have on a daily basis to deal with the real world.

One of the benefits of the recent "civic" additions to these two parties is their potential to produce an element of reality by bringing into the arena of party political decision making persons from that real world outside of the parties.

Sam Hinds and Stanley Ming are two such persons.

However, the leaders of both our main parties do not seem to understand the significance of what they have done, or its real potential. They remain profoundly satisfied with their common political culture and unite against any initiative from outside of the culture that introduces any element of reality. Thus no non-partisan senate; no non-executive President and a permanent reluctance to include in the decision making process any element of civil society, with two exceptions.

Those exceptions do not do them any credit. They only occur when the society is on the brink of collapse (and civil mediation is desperately needed from inside or outside) or when those donors who really command our decision making processes want something done.

What has President Jagdeo been saying as regards GPL? It is that, whatever the law we enacted, whatever the contract we signed, there will be no rate increase, unless I say so. "Let no dog bark!"

What is Prime Minister Hinds saying? It is that there is a real world out there of hard choices and contractual obligations which we felt we had to enter into and which we cannot violate when we choose to.

Remember the Teemal case? Teemal was a time-keeper employed by Guysuco. By his contract with Guysuco he was entitled to a salary increment from the 1st January 1979.

However, in 1979 Maximum Leader LFS Burnham issued an edict to all public sector corporations that no increases should be made in their employees' remuneration in 1979. As a result, Guysuco refused Teemal the increase.

Teemal took the matter to the High Court and the trial judge found for him. Guysuco appealed to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal held that the contract between Guysuco and Teemal was binding and enforceable, and that the 'edict' by the Government had no lawful effect on the legal effectiveness of that contract. In other words, as Justice of Appeal Ronald Luckhoo put it, Cabinet's decision was not paramount. It was the Constitution which was paramount and the law of contract which enforced contractual obligations. He emphasised that "this is an important case. It underscores the necessity for the observance of the rule of law in a changing society".

The decision in Teemal was unanimous. Justices of Appeal Fung-a-Fat and Massiah were of the same mind.

If I may presume to advise our two maximum leaders I would say to them: "Mr President, just think of what the logic of your present position on rate increases would be like if applied to the collection of taxes by your Government. Would you tell your tax payers "no pay unless no pain" where the application of the legal formula would result in increased payment? Mr Hoyte (through Mr Clarke) - remember Teemal? The change from socialist to capitalist rhetoric is not enough. You must also leave the plantation.

Power is not untrammeled, particularly in third world states with weak economies. You can only refuse to pay for your lunch once.

Stop crucifying Sam Hinds for recognizing this reality, or you may end up working in a very dirty kitchen indeed.

Yours faithfully,

(name and address provided)