CHANGES---AFTER 'PARTY PARAMOUNTCY'
By Rickey Singh
July 20, 2003
HOW FAR Guyana has moved away from its oppressive, murky political culture linked to a heinous doctrine of "party paramountcy" in a supposedly multi-party democracy, was symbolized last week, both by the presence of a United Nations envoy on "racism", and the readiness of a Commission of Inquiry into the Disciplined Forces.
Prior to presidential proclamation and enforcement, under the dispensation of the People's National Congress (PNC), of the doctrine of "party paramountcy", that effectively reduced the judiciary and all state institutions to the authority of that party, Guyana had the benefit of a Commission of Inquiry on "Racial Problems in the Public Service" (including the disciplined forces).
It was conducted by the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) whose October 1965 report was to be followed some four years later, by a Commission of Inquiry into the Public Service of Guyana. It was conducted by a seven-member team headed by the Guyanese public service specialist, Bertram Collins.
Both the ICJ Commission on Racial Problems in the Public Service, headed by Justice Seamus Henchy of Ireland, and the Bertram Collins'-led Commission on the 'Guyana Public Service' were useful contributions for a particular period in the country's political history.
The period, that is, prior to and just after the end of British colonialism under which the seeds for racial divisions were carefully sown and perpetuated under various "Governors" right up to the handing over to one leader the mantle of political independence for which another had courageously and consistently led the struggle.
The Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination and Xenophobia of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Doudou Die’ne, has had his one working week in Guyana. Now he is leaving for a similar mission to Trinidad and Tobago.
When he finally settles down to writing his report based on interviews held and documents/reports received, he would be expected to also give due consideration to how successive PNC administrations, both under the late Forbes Burnham and Desmond Hoyte, used the doctrine of "party paramountcy” to suit that party' own image and likeness of the post-independence and post-republican disciplined forces as well as the structure and functioning of the Guyana Public Service.
This equally applies to the five-member Commission, led by Ian Chang, to examine and make recommendations on the composition, functioning, professionalism, responsibility and accountability of the Disciplined Forces---Guyana Police Force, Guyana Defence Force, Guyana Prison Service and the Guyana Fire Service.
The London-based Latin America Bureau's publication "Guyana--Fraudulent Revolution", published in 1984 in cooperation with the Guyana Human Rights Association, has a very relevant chapter on how the doctrine of "party paramountcy" consolidated electoral fraud and undermined state institutions.
It was a doctrine that made a mockery of all supposedly independent institutions. It had the police and army ranks jumping to the dictates of the ruling party, exacerbated racial insecurity, eroded the right of association, fair employment practices and, generally, destroyed traditional democratic norms.
Guyana is still struggling to overcome the destructive, divisive legacy of PNC rule some 11 years after that party was eventually replaced as a government at the first free and fair independently supervised general election since the late Forbes Burnham instituted effective one-party rule in 1973 that rolled on to 1992 under his successor, the late Desmond Hoyte.
It is good to know that a former Brigadier of the Guyana Defence Force is on the Chang Commission probing the Disciplined Forces. Pity there is also not a former high ranking police officer.
Those who once held senior and influential positions under the dispensation of 28 years of rule by the PNC would be hard pressed not to also expose the harmful consequences of "party paramountcy" and the weaknesses the disciplined forces are yet to sufficiently overcome by new policies and practices.
Errors of judgment and deficiencies in policies have surfaced over the 11 years of PPP/C administrations. But there is clearly a difference between errors of judgment and cases of seeming incompetence and any official policy of discrimination, to either undermine the integrity of the disciplined services, or to appoint and promote ranks on the basis of race or political affiliation.
In responding to their respective mandates, both UN envoy Die’ne, as well as the Chang Commission on the Disciplined Forces can hardly deal with the present without an objective assessment of the past in order to come forward with recommendations to help ensure a better future in the governance of Guyana Full Circle.
They will find, for example, that while it governed, without change, from 1964 to 1992, successive PNC regimes simply scoffed at charges of racial and political discrimination in governance as well as against allegations of police brutality and extra-judicial killings.
The PNC was, however, to come full circle, with its loss of power, to malign the integrity of the Police Force in particular when it became apparent that it could no longer easily manipulate the police, or the army, to fulfill its own political agendas.
President Bharrat Jagdeo would have been confident of the policies and programme of the PPP/C administration to make a reality of the national motto "One People, One Nation, One Destiny", when he invited the UN's Die’ne to pursue the mandate that brought him to Guyana.
And it is to the credit of both the PPP/C Government and the parliamentary opposition PNC/R that they could have arrived at the point of their dialogue process to have in place the Chang Commission on the Disciplined Forces.
The various reconstituted constitutions, or newly established parliamentary committees and rights bodies, such as the Ethnic Relations Commission, and the increasing efforts to correct historical wrongs and prejudices suffered by Guyana's indigenous Amerindian communities, as well as the level of bi-partisan representation on boards of state corporations, are all most welcome changes to improve governance and strengthen the democratic proceeds--away from "party paramountcy".
To varying degrees, the credits can be shared by both the PPP/C and the PNC/R for the maturity that has eventually resulted in getting high-level dialogue back on track to result in the unfolding changes.
We await what envoy Die’ne and the Chang Commission have to offer in the months ahead so that others can make their own critical evaluations of their respective reports and, specifically the recommendations that, in their judgment, could help to make this multi-ethnic, multi-religious society a place of which Guyanese of all races and classes could be justly proud.