NOTES ON LOCAL GOVERNMENT REFORM
Clarence F. Ellis, Dr.David Hinds, Dr.Kimani Nehusi
Posted June 18th. 2004
1. Our Dilemma in Governance
Since 1992, there have been no major investments which the PNC did not attract before leaving office. The one significant investment in telecommunications which has recently been made is in limbo because an environment of investor confidence cannot be guaranteed. General elections are, in effect, ethnic censuses with a rigidity in the expectations of who will govern and who must accept perpetual second class status. These expectations are reinforced by cultural proclivities that are expressed in the local lingo of being "pan tap".
The stalemate resulting from no consensus for governing is not one of quiescence but one of continuous violent struggle which frightens away investors. The country, in respect of GDP growth, is, as a consequence, at a stand still. Young people cannot find work. The recent Census results confirm that outward migration has increased. Guyana has become a classic zero sum society. For one group to gain ,another group must lose. In many communities, child molestation, incest and poultry thieving are on the rise. The murder rate which had reached astronomical proportions in 2002 fell in 2003 but has begun to climb again. Burglaries are on the increase. Crime has become a principal means of earning a living. Drug busts are bigger and are more frequent. Foreign criminal activities, through narcotics, have distorted the system of incentives. The associated corruption makes it difficult to do legitimate business.
These distortions have had adverse effects on community cohesion and economic growth in all areas. The age old plantation constraints still exist and inhibit making economic choices that are now being made available from trade agreements. Many communities are racially homogeneous, or almost so, and can combine their energies productively if they are allowed to relate to ancestral relationships that have shaped their histories. There is great power in the recall of those histories as the Amerindians emphasize. In the African villages ,similar traditions have been the victims, since Emancipation , of the preference for sugar. And, in the East Indian areas ,even though land is not as co-operatively owned ,the potential exists ,for continued economic growth that can overcome the social difficulties that are now being experienced.
If these communities are empowered to make decisions, they will give expression to their various identities. If this empowerment is associated with a transparent and fair allocation of resources throughout the country, the basis for racial harmony consistent with racial diversity can be established. Transparency in respect of resource allocation and the design of criteria of fairness will provide the basis for national unity while protecting ancestral traditions.
As communities are empowered (a) to maintain and manage their facilities and (b) to improve and to add to the ways in which they earn their living, the impact at the national level will, over time, lead to a greater willingness to reduce the ethnic census elections results as ethnic insecurities are reduced. The zero sum narrowness will broaden to a positive sum view. Poverty, entrenched over the past 500 years in the rigidity of production structures, will be reduced. Much of the present poverty is the result of being told what and how to produce. Very often, the decision makers have been wrong, as the planters were in their focus on sugar, but the villagers, most prominently, have paid the price of those mistakes. If the people are to lift themselves out of poverty as is envisaged in the Poverty Reduction Strategy and in the world Millennium goals, they will have to combine their knowledge with their assets to effect changes in production decisions. The people can be helped if they are guided to production opportunities and are allowed to apply their energies to the task of producing and to benefit to a greater extent from their contribution of labour and skills.
2. The Vision of Production Opportunities in Local Government areas
The people in their communities need to modernise their production activities and to extend production to include more activities. We can bottle coconut water as is done in Thailand and in Jamaica. We can make mango nectar as is done in India. We can sell fresh mangoes overseas as the Haitians do. We can export fruit pulp for further processing as the world turns more and more to tropical fruit and tropical fruit products. It is possible to work with Captain Stoll to dehydrate vegetables and fruits and dramatically increase the shelf life of food products for home and overseas consumption. We can grow shrimp and fish in our trenches and in inland ponds and join with the Brazilians to export hassar. We can rear goats and cattle for sale in the Caribbean and to Caribbean people in North America and in Europe. We can sell fresh papaws overseas and can manufacture papaw enzyme which is a popular item in health food stores in America. There are many other very profitable activities ,like aloe vera, that can be pursued on the fertile coastlands if drainage and irrigation are very efficient and if the farmers have the finance, the technology and the equipment to produce.
Some of this activity is already in evidence in East Indian communities which export considerable amounts of produce. But the approach is not generalised to all communities and bears all the marks of being clandestine and haphazard. In respect of tropical fruits and other food products, the state has not pursued the selection and development of varieties like Buxton spice mangoes, that can establish a marketing image to secure overseas customer loyalty.
It is possible to pursue this vision without relying on the plantation mode. Individual farmers can pursue high valued crops on small and medium sized plots and collaborate when economies of scale warrant such collaboration as in marketing, in acquiring new technologies and in processing. The chances that collaboration will succeed are greater when the individual producers have a lot in common and can trust one another. For this reason, the Amerindians are requesting that their communities remain under the governance arrangements of the Amerindian Act. A similar set of considerations apply to East Indians who are already collaborating though somewhat clandestinely and haphazardly as noted above. Similar arrangements should apply to Africans who purchased villages at inflated values from slave owners, and whose self-determination suffered from the cultural and economic genocide practised by the country's rulers in the 19th and 20th centuries.
3. Required changes in Governance.
The effort to cater for the needs of the various communities does not require the wholesale restructuring of federalism as proposed by ROAR or of partition as some Africans propose. Instead, a complete overhaul of the Local Government system, including the Regional Democratic Councils, can achieve the same goals of a multi-racial existence. Specialisation between political and administrative roles should replace the present system that has made political representatives into bungling civil servants and that expects civil servants to be politically biased.
Our first proposal at restructuring places all executive functions in the hands of the Regional Executive Officer (REO) who should be as well qualified as any Permanent Secretary to command the respect of the professionals with whom s/he must work. This transfer of executive authority to the REO permits the decentralisation of administrative tasks that are very inefficiently pursued from the centre and that can best be improved if they are managed from the administrative offices in the Regions. Well qualified and well-trained professionals are required to manage the forestry operations that are now clear-cutting the forests and that are not leading to replanting. Those officers can institute checks on the accuracy of reports of timber cut and lumber produced.
Similar checks on the authenticity of production by Omai are necessary. It is a tragedy of mismanagement that Omai has been mining gold for the past 12 years and that the country has not instituted a monitoring system that can vouch for the authenticity of the reports from large and small gold and diamond miners. In today's world of corporate irresponsibility, our management is forced to place complete trust in the corporations because of an incapability to verify what companies report and an incapacity to control our borders. The environmental damage from mining by our own small miners and by garimpeiros is inadequately assessed because the Regional Offices are not staffed with local professionals who live in the Regions and know the operators well. Tax experts can be located in Regional Offices and can inventorise establishments in the Region much more efficiently than can be done from Georgetown. Customs offices can be decentralised and placed under the authority of the Regional Executive Officers.
This shift of executive authority to the Regional Executive Officer must be associated with the development of political oversight functions by the Regional Democratic Councillors who should see their roles as catalysts and not as managers of the development process. As catalysts, the Councillors should help people in the villages and communities to think through their development projects, to assess their collaborative arrangements, to suggest new ideas for improvements where there are inefficiencies and to maintain peace and prosperity in their communities.
4. Removal of the tier of the Neighbourhood Democratic Council
Development structured in terms of specialisation of political and administrative roles permits the removal of the tier of the Neighbourhood Democratic Councils and the institution of Village and Community Councils structured around coherent rather than contending communities. The immediate result will be the increase of the village and community councils but oversight should benefit from the assignment of Regional Development Councillors to guiding the planning and administration activities in the villages and communities as earlier suggested. The accounting and fiscal operations can be supervised by strengthened Regional Executive Offices.
The planning and administrative activities will vary in the villages and communities in accord with an assessment of production prospects and the state of the infrastructure. Villagers and community dwellers can pay attention to pollution in a way that Neighbourhood Democratic Councils and Regional Democratic Councils cannot. At present ,village trenches are so polluted with fertilisers and insecticides that fresh water fish and shrimp have disappeared. But this can be changed by segregating drainage arrangements. Bottom-up physical production and environmental planning and administrative management can constitute that resurgence of localism which will result in greater village and community self-help and in reduced levels of bureaucraticisation. Villagers and community dwellers, because of the reduced bureaucraticisation, will take a greater interest in the health and education programmes in their villages/communities.
The advantage of this focus on localism in all villages and communities is that it removes the differentiation in status between Amerindian and other communities. Each set of communities can relate to its special histories which can form the basis of the pride with which development can be pursued. Conceived in terms of their historical dimensions, community pride could lead to the rejection of the criminal and dysfunctional influences that have tended to destroy villages and establish tyrannies in other communities. Texts like "Buxton/ Friendship in Print & Memory" compiled by Eusi Kwayana should be written for, and by, all communities and should form the basis of education of all young villagers. The present criminalisation of the economy to which reference was made at the beginning can be brought to an end by better policing but also by the education of the children and the adults in the communities about the noble histories of their communities. Histories of the communities will bring to an end many of the myths that are perpetuated to bring about division in the society.
National unity out of this diversity can be achieved by the inter-action of top-down and bottom-up development. Bottom-up development can be planned in the villages and communities by village and community councils with the advice of a Regional Democratic Councillor. Top-down development can be planned by the Ministry of Finance in relation to the macro-economic aggregates. In this approach, the villages and communities will submit their Budgets to the Regional Democratic Councils who should be provided by the Ministry of Finance with rough approximations of what resources are likely to be available to the Region. The Regional Democratic Councils, with the assistance of the REOs, will revise the submissions of the villages and communities by debating priorities in the open. The revised regional Budget will then be submitted to the Ministry of Finance where all Regional Budgets will be re-assessed and revised, making clear the criteria by which the allocations among the Regions are made. Each Region will then revise the allocations among villages and communities, again specifying clearly the criteria for its allocation. Villages and communities will be allowed to appeal for larger allocations and Regions will be allowed do the same.
The publication of this back-and-forth process( called "iteration" in the planning jargon) will bring the country together and remove the present accusations of favouritism of one Region or one community over another. By comparison, the ad hoc depressed communities approach( at present being used in the national Dialogue) is not comprehensive. In this recommended approach, all communities and villages are considered at the same time because the process is bottom-up and requires all communities and villages to start preparing budgets at the same time. This iterative approach is the only process that can bring about unity out of diversity by giving an opportunity to diversity to develop as it wishes and by allocating resources to those wishes within the constraints of the overall Budget envelope.
5. Financing the Local Government Process
Nothing results in as much confusion as Local Government finance. The straightforward fact is that "rates and taxes" are never enough to meet the needs of local authorities, including Georgetown. This necessitates maximizing the contribution of "rates and taxes" which, in effect, are the property tax. But the property tax is compromised by the continued existence of a wealth tax which was enacted in the early 1960s. The wealth tax is inefficient, based as it is on bases that cannot be easily established.
As a first measure, the wealth tax should be repealed. As a second measure, the property tax should be based everywhere on market values. As a third measure, the property tax should be graduated progressively so that the larger properties pay at a higher rate.
The property tax should be a state liability of citizens to ensure uniformity in the rate of property taxation. But efficient collecting units like Georgetown can continue to collect the property tax. In villages and communities, the collected amounts should be paid into the Consolidated Fund. An exception should be made for Georgetown and possibly for New Amsterdam.
This arrangement tidies the book keeping and reduces the likelihood of fraud by the proliferation of accounting officers at the village and community level. There are small fees that local authorities may collect but those should also be considered receipts for the Consolidated Fund until accounting systems are better developed for turning them over to the local authorities.
Property taxes should be returned in full to the respective local authorities which should be allowed to budget for those receipts as revenues. Accountability ought to be spelt out clearly. Records ought to be open to the inspection of villagers, rate or tax payers or anyone served by the particular local government organ. Members of the public as are represented in, and through the payment of taxes, ought to have the right to attend and observe any meeting of the said organ in which they are represented.
The enhancement of local receipts cannot, on this arrangement, be determined by rules. The allocation of resources should be settled by the Budgetary process outlined in Section 4 above.
6. Political Representation
A single list system is best for small communities which can be destroyed by the divisiveness of Westminister style political party representation that leads to exclusion of the weaker political party in a situation which requires the commitment of all the villagers. This total commitment is necessary in the situation where the production envisaged includes a systematic transformation of the farming and food processing environment. Predial larceny is best contained by the consensual approach of the community.
Electors should be allowed to cast votes for the number of councillors to fill all seats. Councillors ranked highest should be selected. If political party representation is to be entertained, it should apply to no more than 30% of the seats.
In Georgetown, the representation should revert to the ward system. Candidates may represent one or the other political party but it is the leadership qualities of the individual that should be uppermost in selecting councillors. An important function that Local Government Election can serve is the establishment of the population size of the villages, communities and wards. This data base will help to establish the integrity of the voters' register in each community and confidence in the accuracy of the national voters' register.
7. Recapturing community life.
The approach to a progressive future has several dimensions. This dimension of democracy( that is, the empowerment of people) is the bottom-up accompaniment to the Power Sharing proposals put out by the PNCR. This bottom-up emphasis is associated with an efficient decentralisation of the administration that is designed to achieve physical control of the country and to reduce the porosity of the borders. The decentralisation is an important aspect of the implementation of the Separation of Powers while the bottom-up deliberations constitute an equally important reduction of the present authoritarianism in the political institutions of the country.There is a bright future ahead for reducing poverty as is spelt out in the Vision(Section 2).But that future requires first that we have that vision and second that we release the energies of the people to go after that vision.
The resource allocation process should be based on a thorough going democracy at work. As is clear in the description of that process, transparency of the decision making processes, and not mere consultation, is the critical factor. If the fairness of the distribution of resources is assured, the diversity of communities, with their variations in their informal links will be cherished . Village councils can tap into the resources of Village Associations in the diaspora. A linking of villages to the Village Associations in North America has great potential for attracting resources and people back to Guyana. Village and community councils can be training grounds for new leadership and nurseries for fresh indigenous ideas which would, in turn, enrich the national ethos. The Village Councils, by bringing government closer to the people, can help with the building of communities in a way that the Neighbourhood Councils cannot. It can also make government real and less intimidating to citizens. In an era of accountable governance, the Village and Community Councils can become a potent check and "undersight" of the higher tiers of government, thus institutionalising "bottom-up" democracy as praxis rather than as abstraction.
PNC/R ready to discuss power sharing But PPP says trust must be established first
(Ross Robertson talks to some senior politicians on a vexed political issue)
Posted November 22nd. 2003 - Stabroek News
'One People, One Nation, One Destiny' could be seen as being a cruel irony on the coat of arms of a country where development and progress are blocked by ethnic tensions. The people and the politicians are in agreement that it is time for serious change if the country is to improve, and the quest for a workable solution to Guyana's problems is on. The government and opposition parties all recognise that there is a need for adjusted governance to tackle the long-standing issue of ethnic rivalry and insecurity.
Executive power sharing, where both sides share power in a multi-party government, is one solution that has presented itself, and the People's National Congress Reform (PNC/R) circulated in Sep-tember a document outlining proposals for shared governance. The PPP has also published proposals of its own and the debate is now on as to whether executive power sharing is workable, and more importantly, if it can actually solve the deeply embedded social and political divisions that exist in Guyana.
"Once the politicians are in, they just care about themselves. They forget about the roads and the housing and the electricity. They forget about the masses that elected them," claims a night security guard in downtown Georgetown. Every story has at least two sides. With Guyana, it seems, it is felt that the two sides of the story are the side of the politicians and the side of the people, and there is little connection between the two. We took a walk around Georgetown to see how the people felt about power-sharing and what the politicians were up against in their struggle to heal Guyana's wounds.
Power-sharing is an area fraught with contention, and there are many considerations to be taken into account when looking at the notion of shared governance. We spoke to representatives from four of Guyana's political parties to gain their views on the issues surrounding shared governance and the possibilities of its success.
Power-sharing has been attempted in a number of other countries across the globe, though not always with great success. The power-sharing government in Fiji resulted in a coup, and the power-sharing agreement in Northern Ireland collapsed some time after its formation. Nevertheless, those in favor of power-sharing in Guyana refute that we should look to these negative examples as a warning against executive power sharing here. "There are nations where power- sharing has worked and I believe it is urgently needed here" argues James McAllister, citing Malaysia as a success story. McAllister chaired the PNC/R committee which devised the proposal for shared governance. "What we have now is not working and the idea that we shouldn't do something because it might not work is ludicrous... We can only move forward if we try something else. And we think that should be shared governance."
However, Robert Persaud of the PPP/C disagrees with the notion that just because the system in Guyana is not working any suggestion is viable. "We do not accept the connection between a so-called turmoil and trying anything as a solution. In fact, there is a need for extraordinary caution in responding to any situation of turmoil. Any responsible movement will seek to ensure that any proposal or solution does not worsen the situation. As such, options being proposed must be critically analysed. The same is the case with executive power sharing."
Persaud and the PPP/C feel that it is not necessary to go as far as power-sharing, and that there are other moves that can be made towards more inclusive governance. "Given the ethnic mix of our population where there are two significant race groups, East Indians and Africans, the search for models of governance must, of necessity, be ongoing. The PPP/C has publicly stated that even though it has the ability to win elections on its own, it has a preference for inclusive governance and participatory democracy, which in effect meant broadening the base of governance structures to include the broadest cross-section of the people in Guyana."
The PPP/C's policy position released in February, 'Towards Greater Inclusive Governance in Guyana,' was written in response to the PNC/R proposals, and pointed to a number of measures already in place which leaned towards more inclusive governance. These include the establishment of a number of bi-partisan committees and the furnishing of the PNC/R with positions on over 50 state boards and committees. The document also stipulates a strong wish to expand on inclusive governance initiatives in the future.
But McAllister doesn't feel that other measures of inclusive governance can be substituted. "Guyana doesn't need cosmetic surgery; it needs radical intrusive surgery to address the public need. We need to make fundamental changes, there's no sense in tinkering here and tinkering there. The changes must be fundamental and the faster we do this, the faster we can move on."
Other parties seem to concur that greater steps need to be taken sooner if Guyana is to move on. 'I quote the [19th century] British prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli, who said that you cannot cross a chasm by taking many small leaps, you must take one big leap.' And I think that is what is needed, is the sentiment of ROAR leader, Ravi Dev who is in favor of power sharing at a national level, as a component of his ideas of reforming Guyana's political situation, which has an emphasis on the decentralisation of power and the federalisation of the country.
Sheila Holder of the GAP/WPA is equally critical of what she believes to be inadequate methods of inclusive governance and also stresses that it is only the PNC/R that is given a seat on the state boards, leaving out minority parties and other interest groups. "The more they talk of inclusiveness, the more they exclude, even if the exclusion is of the minor parties." She also feels that action must be taken sooner, "Contrary to the belief that the reform effort has to be gradual, it has to be speeded up. Society is teetering on the brink. We don't have time to take years to get to the level of reform that's required."
"The average man doesn't have time to read the newspapers and think about what's happening. He's too busy trying to work out how he can divide up all his money to feed his family. He just votes depending on the color of his skin cos he ain't got time to think," another opinion from one of Georgetown's Saturday night philosophers.
One of the general criticisms of executive power sharing is the possibility of gridlock, the situation that arises when two dominant parties in a coalition cannot agree on an issue and the matter remains unresolved with neither side wishing to give in. In Guyana, this is a particularly prominent fear, many feeling that the lack of trust and 'bad blood' that exists between the two major parties is the problem now, and will simply continue into a power-sharing agreement, resulting in grave consequences for the nation. The PPP/C express their concerns on this matter, alongside other criticisms of shared governance, in their policy position. "No contrived system of governance will succeed in a situation where trust and good faith do not exist between the political parties."
In response, McAllister again brings up the fact that the current system doesn't work, so there is no sense in nullifying a suggestion on the grounds that what is being proposed might not work. "If you go out and you look around Guyana, read about Guyana and see its potential, and see where we are, you will see that what we have had for the last 50 years is gridlock. Our suggestion is geared towards the removal of gridlock from the system. And we're not talking about cosmetic gridlock; gridlock where two men can't agree on an issue, we're talking about gridlock of such social magnitude that the country is not going anywhere, and has no possibility of going anywhere unless we solve the gridlock we are in right now. We are in a political gridlock that is working to the detriment of the people."
He disagrees that the inter-party distrust would result in gridlock in a situation of shared governance and argues that the parties are capable of working together when it is mandatory. "When the rule is dictated that we work together, then we work together. In the constitutional reform process the parties worked together and achieved fundamental changes. They agreed, agreed to disagree, they compromised and made a number of agreements. And there are many more examples of the parties working together."
"I don't know that the distrust will disappear over-night, but what I do know is that in any situation of people working together, and becoming more knowledgeable of each other, that people become more trustful."
The PNC/R proposal does accept the possibility of what it refers to as 'agree-to-disagree' situations, and that they must be effectively managed, even though these situations "hopefully would be rare." McAllister explains the mechanisms which are designed to prevent gridlock, and how gridlock can be overcome. "Ministerial working groups, formal sections, clusters of ministers, who will be meeting on a multi-party level, can bounce ideas around until they come up with a position. This means there's already a measure of cross-party ownership of the particular initiative, meaning it should have a softer ride through the government processes. If there is a problem, then we propose a vote in parliament."
Ravi Dev concurs that the parties are capable of working together, and believes there are no fundamental differences between them. "I don't think the two parties are so different. The issue is not the how, it's the who." Dev believes that if all parties and their supporters can see their views being represented in government then this will build trust and move away from the what he refers to as the current 'Mexican stand off'.
It's Sunday afternoon outside the Stabroek News offices on Robb Street. A group of Afro-Guyanese kids walk down the street, a little behind an Indo-Guyanese boy. They light a firework and throw it at his feet, exploding a few seconds later, just sufficient time for him to walk a couple of oblivious steps away.
Another argument against executive power-sharing is that it is anti-democratic. Having the two major parties in coalition effectively eliminates the opposition, leaving the government with little in the way of an opposing voice. This is a fairly substantial worry in Guyana, with minority parties receiving such little support at elections. Opposition would be minimal should the two major parties be in a position of shared governance.
The PPP/C voiced concern over the removal of the opposition in its response to the PNC/R proposals as one of the reasons why it felt a system of executive power-sharing was undesirable.
McAllister's views are in contrast to this, and he feels that effective opposition is MPs standing up in parliament and voicing the concerns of their constituents, not the current stand off. "What we have now is confrontation, and that leads to no change."
The PNC/R proposal contains a section concerned with the "redefinition of opposition politics" which lays out ideas to make the government more accountable to the people, including freedom-of-information legislation, a non-executive president with powers to commission inquiries and stronger government watchdogs.
Sheila Holder agrees there is need for greater government accountability. "We need measures that force the government to be accountable, to make it transparent. But there is an absence of the checks and balances to make it happen."
Holder, although a supporter of the concept of power- sharing, expresses concern over what she refers to as "these two political gladiators operating together in a unified government." She sees power-sharing as an expansion of the proportional representation system, wishing for the result at the polls to be better reflected in parliament, which, she feels, would better represent minority groups, expressing her concerns that the two major ethnic groups dominate the politics in Guyana.
All the same, she does agree that the current situation does not represent an effective system of opposition. "How effective is the opposition right now? Walking out of parliament, staying out of parliament. The whole purpose of the opposition is to assert the needs of their constituency and supporters. Such opportunities do not exist in the current parliamentary system that we have, that forces the opposition to take extra- parliamentary action by going in the streets to allow its voice to be heard, to force the government to respond to the needs of their arguments. We need to try something at this stage because what we have now is not working." When asked if she thought power-sharing was an anti-democratic system of governance, she responded by arguing that it was not democratic for a party with 52% of the vote to have 100% of control of the decision-making process.
"I think power sharing would work. Now, if the PPP are in power, it's 'they do this wrong, they do this wrong and they do this wrong'. If the PNC are in, it's 'they do this wrong, they do this wrong and they do this wrong'. If they were in power together, the people only have one person to blame and they might start voting on what the politicians are doing instead of what race they are."
Ravi Dev's views are also not in concurrence with the idea of power-sharing going against the principles of democracy. "Democracy has two meanings. The first one, the procedural one, is the election. But the second basis is that the people should be involved in the decision-making process. And that's what we want to see, we have to have all Guyanese feel 'we have a share of how this country is governed'. So I feel [power-sharing] is democratic."
But will executive power-sharing actually help to improve the situation in Guyana? Will it ease ethnic tension? Will it begin to dissolve the deep-rooted insecurities between the two dominant groups in Guyana? The PPP/C takes the line of power-sharing's general criticism that shared governance is a move to the "institutionalism of ethnic rivalry". This fear is concerned with the problem that forming a system of executive power sharing recognises that ethnic tensions are insurmountable and hardens ethnic tensions, with government becoming essentially a body comprised of tribal leaders.
The PPP/C currently disagrees that power-sharing is necessary and Robert Persaud argues against the position that ethnic voting patterns mean that the PPP/C are destined to be re-elected indefinitely on population percentages alone. "The notion of ethnic voting patterns is stereotyping the issue. The PPP and the PPP/Civic support from all regions across ethnicity is unparalleled in Guyana's context. While it is true that there is a correlation between ethnicity and voting behavior, it is equally true that our party has been able to get multi-racial support, including a significant segment of Afro-Guyanese, as the results of the previous two elections so eloquently demonstrated."
"There's more Indians here than Africans and the PPP are gonna be elected forever and ever, until kingdom come." An Afro-Guyanese security guard expresses his opinion on ethnic voting patterns.
He goes on to say that there is no guarantee that ethnic tensions will be reduced by introducing shared governance and to suggest that the African population is being denied the feeling of control of the country is to say that the PPP/C, as a matter of policy, is denying them a sense of participation. "Nothing can be further from the truth. The allocation of resources in the important social sectors of education, health, water, roads and electricity positively affected all Guyanese at equal measure. There is no limitation of expression or freedom of association. There is no discrimination in the allocation of jobs in the public sector or the distribution of state facilities such as house lots or access to credits." Persaud also points to the establishment of the Ethnic Relations Commission, which has enormous powers of sanction in the event of an individual or organisation being found guilty of discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity. He stresses that the ERC was designed not just to combat discrimination, but the perception of discrimination.
For the PPP/C then, shared governance is an unnecessary excess and other measures of inclusive governance are the way forward. But for the PNC/R this is not the case, and McAllister expresses a strong belief that executive power- sharing is the way forward, "Our problem is that an antagonistic competition exists between the two major ethnic groups in this society, where it is known that the winner takes all. The faster we realise that if we put in place an arrangement where we all work together as Guyanese to create the kind of competitive advantages to encourage investment, the better it is going to be for us."
Dev is of the opinion that power-sharing could soften ethnic tensions and dissolve insecurities and suspicions, though he admits that it is not 'a silver bullet'. He sees it as an accompaniment of other initiatives, in particular his idea of federalising Guyana, and suggests that executive power-sharing at a national level may simply need to be a temporary measure, perhaps only for two terms. "The situation now is closely matched that each group thinks with a little push it can win. But once you have a structure where you can accommodate both groups, a new question arises, who can best represent my interests. It's now ok to vote against my own, because my own will still be there. Voting against your own is no longer seen as a betrayal. It's ok to split the vote. New parties can form within each block." His argument here is that the removal of the desire for overall control and the fear of losing leading to subjugation will put issues back at the centre of Guyanese politics, rather than race, breaking down ethnic voting patterns and leading towards more responsible voting.
A guy in Palm Court tells me he's sick of the government. "Who did you vote for?" I ask. "The PPP." "Oh, will you vote for them again?" "Yes." 'But why if you don't approve of what they do?" "Because I have straight hair. That's how it works in Guyana, if you have straight hair you vote PPP, if you have curly hair you vote PNC."
Sheila Holder's feelings are on a similar level to those of Dev's, hoping that her vision of power-sharing will lead to voters looking to issues rather than race. "We need to create an environment where people will have the confidence that their views will count for something. I believe this will best be manifested in the reduction of levels of violence that we see in society, and the levels of poverty. When the people grow in confidence, they'll concentrate on issues rather than just simply throwing their support behind these two political dinosaurs."
So what, then, is the future of power-sharing in Guyana? Clearly there is much support amongst the opposition parties to look further at the possibility of shared governance in Guyana, but the government has its reservations. Robert Persaud is keen to point out that the state is still in transition in terms of governance and the PPP/C is committed to working steadfastly with opposition, civil society and the donor community. "On the specific issue of executive power sharing, the PPP feels that there has to be a consolidation of trust and commonality of broad national objectives at a programmatic level before any discussion on this matter can be meaningfully explored. The current initiatives of the PPP/Civic administration in the further democratisation of decision-making at the legislative and executive levels can be regarded as a point of departure to other levels of governance provided of course, that there is good faith and a sense of reciprocity by the main opposition."
The idea of executive power sharing has many pros and cons, and it appears difficult to say what kind of impact it might have in Guyana. Opinions are mixed as to if and how a system of shared governance would improve on the current form of government, have any impact on ethnic tensions in society or the relations between the major political parties.
It seems any changes that are made are going to be difficult, due to mistrust, reservations and insecurities among all groups. But the fact that changes will be so difficult on these grounds is perhaps the reason why they need to be made. What is certain though, is that the changes will have to come soon, as a disgruntled population is giving up on its country.
"Do you think things will ever get better in Guyana" I ask yet another security guard. 'Sometimes I think things will never change here 'cept if God comes down himself and saves us."
POWER SHARING: AN ALTERNATIVE TO THE GRAND COALITION
Posted October 2nd. 2003 - by Judaman Seecoomar
It seems to me that the main stumbling block to the proper functioning of liberal democracy in Guyana is the critically important proviso that the Opposition should be a government in waiting. That is, that there should be periodic changes of government through keenly contested elections based on programmatic offerings. From the late 1950s onward it became clear that as long as race continued to be the electoral driving force only one side will go on winning. That electoral democracy will not produce equal access to the state and its distributions. To those who, at different times, were threatened with permanent loss, the electoral process soon became irrelevant and the consignment to eternal opposition, an insult. The consequence has been a mismatch between the demands of democratic institutions and the practice of politics which has been persistently non democratic.
This mismatch has manifested itself in the spiralling snowball effect of adversarial politics, fraud, muscular street opposition, economic stagnation and widespread disenchantment, disillusion and despair. To be fair, sections of the Guyanese political intelligentsia have always recognised the latent explosive threats of this unfortunate historical situation. From the 1960s onward, they have presented a steady stream of argument for Power Sharing in one or other of its many guises in order to promote cooperation and reduce conflict. Recently those clamours for a working democracy instead of a voting democracy have become louder and more persistent. In a sea of uncertainty and doubt this is probably the most hopeful sign that the Cooperative Republic will survive and grow.
Most of the current discourse has centred on the model of the grand coalition with proportionality as the guiding principle. Parties share Executive powers and responsibility and have as their focus the needs and aspirations of all the Guyanese people. These take tangible form in a generally agreed programme for national development. The entire operation is to be facilitated by a system of committees for increased participation including oversight, scrutiny and dispute resolution.
At first glance, and if the relevant post-colonial evidence is to be believed, the system is so hemmed in by controls and lack of good faith, it is immobilised before it begins. Since Guyana has one ethnic group with a clear majority, the principle of proportionality quickly reintroduces the spectre of winning and losing and all its attendant ills. But I do not want to spend time criticising this Lijphartian promise of the good life. What I want to do at this crucially important discussion stage is to suggest a less complex alternative as part of the debate. It is called Alternating Government. Rotating Government will also do. What I have in mind is this. The life of a Parliament would be set at 5 years and each of the two main political parties would take charge of government for one term. The party in opposition then becomes in every sense, a government in waiting. Opposition becomes responsible but forever vigilant and critical when necessary. The inevitable contact between Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet in the interest of good government for all, begins the journey to habits of collaboration and cooperation and removes the premium from wrecking as a political end. After all we will be government next time round. In time, say after one or two cycles, the people might be asked to vote on whether or not a government, based purely on its performance, should be allowed a second term. This being the maximum consecutive period for which any single government might hold office.
The involvement of the people in elections and voting take on heightened importance but before I deal with this I want to pay some attention to the social and economic content of these five yearly cycles. In keeping with the thinking of the Guyanese political elite this is to be based on a detailed national development plan. Even though it is ultimately the work of technicians the people must be encouraged to contribute their thoughts and ideas about their poverty, health care, education, housing, employment and other concerns before the plan is devised. Detailed consultations and explanations must be provided at different points before final acceptance is asked for. After all, it is the peoples' welfare which is at stake and they need to know how that is to be provided for along each step of the way. It is this understanding of how the quality of their lives is to be the focus of development which will encourage their support.
Apart from providing five yearly criteria for accountability, this involvement of the people in the planning for their own development is crucial to their emancipation from the subjecthood of the colonial and post-colonial periods and becoming thoughtful and engaged citizens. The latter being the indispensable end of a functioning democracy. To deny them this right to participation on spurious grounds of non-readiness is to collude with a denial of freedom for selfish ends.
With the question of who should govern decided by constitutional provision, the primary voting responsibilities of the people are to choose their representatives and to decide on matters of fundamental constitutional change. 'Their representatives' means the return of the constituency MP. There has been a persistent clamour for this since it was removed by PR. The reasons are on the grounds of identification, accountability and intimacy. Incidentally, my own view is that the PNC/R should begin the process. There are sound reasons why this should be so.
The main purpose for writing this article is to suggest an alternative to the grand coalition as the means to power sharing and good governance in a deeply divided society. That alternative is the rotating five year term of party government with the possibility of extension to ten years in time. The latter being dependent on the judgement and recommendations of the Constitution Reform Commission (CRC) and the approval of the people. It is assumed that the CRC would remain a permanent monitoring commission. The details of how such a government is to be organised and run are already in the existing constitution and its proposed adjustments. These include the select committees and their functions, the provision for dispute resolution and the operations and responsibilities of a government in waiting. It is profoundly important that the reasons for radical constitutional changes are explained to the people and that they are then given the opportunity to choose before fundamental changes are implemented in their name.
I want to spend the rest of my time explaining the principles for my preference. Following John Burton and his colleagues in Conflict Resolution I have argued elsewhere that all human beings have certain existential needs which must be satisfied if social order is to be maintained. These needs are for security, both physical and psychological, for the right to participate in the total life of one's community, recognition of one's human identity and the dignity which goes with it, and distributive justice. Satisfaction does not have to be absolute. Approximations will do, providing it is the best which could be achieved, it is done with fairness, and the satisfaction boundaries are constantly being pushed back, i.e., implementation of the national development plan is being pursued relentlessly and with vigour.
There is no necessary hierarchy in these needs. They are all intimately interdependent and interlinked. The need for participation is to be highlighted here because it means inclusion and promises fairness in distribution, recognition of identity and therefore security. Now, we know that for the last 37 years a phenomenal amount of human energy and physical resources have been squandered in the struggle for control in the expectation that at least one group will have their needs satisfied. This has failed miserably. Instead, the expenditure has bought insecurity, exclusion, misrecognition, unfairness, and the loss of dignity for all. At a stroke however, the legal right to power and responsibility which comes with alternating government and government in waiting, transfers the struggle for power into the struggle for development Giving political power to race now diffuses the power of race to infect politics. All have the opportunity to become engaged for welfare and not for supremacy. Elsewhere, I have dealt at length with Village government as the second half of the principle of engagement.
Throughout this article I have been celebrating the eventual growth of the people as thoughtful citizens, emancipated from fears of racial domination. This I have chosen to call Participatory Democracy. According to Charles Taylor, the minimum requirements are:
" A unity of purpose among its peoples. This does not mean total agreement but a set of common goals which provide focus for open debate and considered choice.
" That its citizens are treated equally and
" That the society is prepared to deliver on its obligations to its members.
The NDP and its five yearly programmes should satisfy the demands for debate and choice, while rotating governments should provide for equality and fairness.
I put forward this view of Power Sharing as a part of the debate. It could be deemed an over enthusiastic view of human rationality. That might be so. The alternatives seem to me to be complex, hemmed in by vetoes and present a picture of people in a room continuously looking over their shoulders. This does not make for cooperation and trust and does nothing for the growth of citizenship and a Guyanese people. In my expectations for the latter, I find myself in distinguished company, albeit dead. It was the distinguished social scientist, the late Barbara Ward who said, "We will become a community or we will die."
Mitrany, D. (1946), A Working Peace System, Chicago, Quadrangle p. www.guyanacaribbeanpolitics.com See submissions by David Hinds, Eusi Kwayana, PNC/R, Tara Singh and Dhanpaul Narine and others.
Mixed reviews from the parties for Roopnaraine's grassroots power-sharing proposal
Posted March 10th. 2003
The proposal by politician and academic Dr Rupert Roopnaraine to introduce "shared governance" at the level of the neighbourhood democratic councils (NDC) is generating mixed reviews from the political parties. Roopnaraine, speaking at a Rotary Club dinner last Friday, proposed that the government should formally end the life of the present councils elected since 1994 and appoint interim councils whose membership would be divided equally between the governing and opposition parties under a co-chairmanship arrangement.
The interim councils would be in place until new local government reforms are implemented. He said that under the arrangement the parties should take the opportunity to appoint persons who were leaders in their communities in their own right rather than party activists. He made the proposal as way of seeing whether shared governance could work rather than rejecting it as unworkable as the PPP has done.
The Working People's Alliance (WPA) of which Roopnaraine is co-leader believes that it is a suggestion that is interesting and worthy of consideration by all the parties. WPA member Desmond Trotman said, "We need to find new ways to take the country forward.
It is the kind of suggestion that we need to give some kind of consideration to and all the parties should look at it in a macro-way to see if it could at all be adopted." Trotman added that if it were to work at the NDC level then steps should be made to make the required arrangements to have it implemented at the national level. ROAR's Ravi Dev says he would support any initiative, which promotes co-operation and would have no difficulty in supporting shared governance at the level of the NDC's.
However, he does not believe that if the arrangement works at that level it could necessarily be transferred to the national level unless the nature of the politics at the national level becomes less competitive. Dev sees the arrangement at the national level as being different to that at the local level and shared governance or power sharing would require a number of system changes. He says at the national level the parties are involved in a competition in a we/them situation, which makes co-operation difficult. James McAllister who chaired the PNCR committee, which formulated its proposals on shared governance, sees Dr Roopnaraine's proposals as being a bit premature.
He feels the proposals were made out of frustration at the PPP's rejection of the concept and as result were looking at finding a softer sell for the concept. McAllister cautions that the issue was too important to be overtaken by frustration. He says the PPP and PNCR had up to now only exchanged views from a distance and have not yet engaged each other in a discussion on their respective views. He says the Social Partners' process would provide an opportunity for the two parties to engage each other in discussions on their respective positions as well as the positions put forward by the other political parties engaged in the process. Commenting on the proposal, McAllister does not see shared governance at the NDC level working in an environment where there is still the competition for resources at the national level.
He says shared governance at the local level has to complement shared governance at the national level. McAllister says the PNCR sees the problem as a top down situation where the competition at the top is transferred to the supporters at the local level and this corrupts the naturally cordial relations between the supporters of the parties outside of the election campaign period. He observes that the supporters of the political parties normally live together fairly well in their communities and even if shared governance were to work at this level it does not follow that the results would be the same, given the competition at the national level. He concedes that there is a need for some measure of co-operation at the local level and that the "winner-not-take-all" approach has merit. But he sees a contradiction in the involvement of the political parties at the NDC level since those appointed would not necessarily be the best leaders but those who can best serve the interest of the parties.
McAllister says the involvement of the political parties would mean decisions being taken outside of the community. It was in recognition of this fact that the PNCR has withdrawn from contesting elections at the NDC level so as to allow the real community leaders to emerge. Commenting on the PPP's proposition that the amendments to the constitution should be fully implemented and given a chance to work before a new proposal is tried, McAllister calls it a survival mechanism that would allow the opposition to be placated but not have a say in the decision-making process.
He says the PNCR believes that the amendments do not go far enough and the party does not have to await their implementation to come to this conclusion. He says the changes are at the parliamentary level and that parliament does not now meet except to approve some bills the government needs to carry on its work. McAllister, alluding to neighbouring Trinidad and Tobago, says it does not matter how efficient the parliament could have been, the Manning government was able to carry on without convening parliament for about six months. He reiterates that the politicians of this country owe the Guyanese people more than just survival, as in Haiti and Suriname.
Mechanisms were needed which would allow them not only to survive but grow and proper like in Malaysia or Singapore. McAllister says that any leader who does not have such a vision for Guyana should pack up and go home. Returning to the PNCR's own shared governance proposal, McAllister says the idea was gaining increasing acceptance with organisations such as the Trades Union Congress and the Guyana Human Rights Association, and they are encouraged by the response with regards to the principle of shared governance.
He says the PNCR at this stage would encourage those who accept the principle of shared governance to dedicate themselves to ensure that people who matter - that is the Guyanese people as a whole - have the final say.
Stabroek News has been unable to contact the leader of The United Force for a comment and a PPP official told this newspaper that Roopnaraine's proposal had not as yet been given the kind of consideration that would allow him to offer a comment.
Guyana needs new strategic vision and focused leadership
Posted January 17th. 2003 - By Moses V. Nagamootoo
HAS occurred to me that the worse place to be whenever the country is in turbulence
Internet news of happenings back home, with sickening repetition, numb the
"great Guyanese" pride in me. With predictable regularity the news
and chat sites speak about gruesome incidents and how the lives of citizens,
in and out of uniform, are wasted like those of hunted animals.
my travels, I have not met a single Guyanese who is not bleeding for Guyana,
fearing that it is becoming a killing field.
so many others, I also followed the dismal reports, which led me to a soul-searching
retreat into our recent history. There are many positive features to the Guyana
life; many pretty stories about development. But we cannot doctor reality,
nor deny it by propaganda spins. And though a quiet fury is burning in my
breast that I ought to say otherwise, I must admit that in just a single year
our history appears to be little less than a register of crimes, grief and
I agree with almost all the explanations being offered for the situation and accept, statistically, that we are not the major gangster-land in the world. But as I place our crimes within the context of our ethnic-political situation, Guyana becomes explosive. Crime becomes the off-shoot of a limited but dangerous, armed insurgency.
me try to explain this context. In 1992 the PNC was defeated. The chain of
stolen power was broken. Most Guyanese were euphoric when Cheddi Jagan became
recognised that a change of government, important for democracy, was only
skin surgery. He wanted social transformation, as the real issues were closer
to the bone.
were, and have been while the PNC held unbroken power, fear of racial domination,
racial insecurity and racial discrimination. I can still see him in my mind's
eye proclaiming on an historic May Day at National Park, "there would
be no discrimination, no victimisation, no recrimination".
did not deter the loser PNC from upping the racial suspicions, accusing the
new government of "ethnic cleansing" of its African supporters.
Then it claimed that Africans were "marginalised".
have no doubt that those ideas of racial subjugation formed the ideology of
what started after the PPP came to power as a PNC proxy fight from its African
support bases, at first in places like Vergenoegen and Georgetown, and later
But while Dr. Jagan lived, a lid was placed on open ethnic insurgency. His message of "racial/class/ideological balance", "inclusion and partnership" and national reconciliation was neutralising broader sectors of the society.
he had worked for since the split in the PPP. And as the PNC grew unpopular,
he had held the hope for a significant crossover of Afro-Guyanese to his party.
He practiced consensus and coalition building at all levels. He embraced the
finest amongst the Africans, notably the late Walter Rodney, and courted them
actively to his side.
canvassed for inter-racial electoral combinations, featuring himself with
running mates such as Dr. Clive Thomas, Mr. Ashton Chase and Mr. Samuel Hinds.
was unabashedly bold when he suggested Dr. Roger Luncheon as a compromise
presidential candidate for the 1992 elections. In an abortive bid, I similarly
advanced his daring proposal for the 1997 elections to deny the PNC in that
election of its race card against the PPP.
the 1994 local government elections, Dr. Jagan devised what was described
as the "Mandela Formula" of power sharing at the municipal level.
After his death, those brilliant moments faded.
efforts could succeed in uniting Indo and Afro-Guyanese if they could simultaneously
decimate the PNC. On the contrary though the PNC lost three consecutive elections,
the racial voting pattern was never broken. In the process, however, the PNC
became weaker as it lost some influence and control over disgruntled supporters,
mostly youths, who gravitated towards new racial messiahs.
can think of no other analogy than that of the predicament of the USA, displacing
the mighty Soviet Union, only to deal with a host of deadly regional conflicts
and wars. As one American official admitted: "We have slain a large dragon
but we live now in a jungle filled with a bewildering variety of poisonous
Statesmanship in Guyana since 1997, alternated with savagery. We have witnessed the daily diet of racism, the chronic hatred and, of course, fires and crimes.
Herdmanston Agreement and the St. Lucia Accord were palliatives not solutions.
They gave us time but did not take us over the line of distrust/hostility
to tolerance/engagement, much less on the road to reconciliation.
much vaunted but failed dialogue between President Jagdeo and Mr. Hoyte became
a fragile fence nailed together in a high wind of hatred. Past suspicions
overshadowed the talks. No one wanted to be accused of giving an inch more
than is prudent, to appear weak or, to be guilty of, to use the treacherous
the end when Hoyte thought that he was empty-handed, he left the table. He
became winner in the game of pressure politics, in street fights, or more
accurately, fires. Democracy in the meantime took a reluctant retreat.
and negotiation had given the people hope. Now, after the failure, it may
not be unkind if history were to write about our leaders as people who had
missed a chance.
time has come when we have to let go of the past. It is the past that is intruding
in the present and blocking the way to the future.
I know that there are people around who cannot let the past go. The past wants
revenge, like the ghost of Hamlet's father.
Take for example the issue of "shared governance" or whatever other labels it is given. I am amazed by the summary disposal of this rather old idea in pro-PPP letters that fall short of context or timing or analysis of the mood of people.
are ready to say that it has not worked in the past, and it would not work
in the future. No attempt is made to analyse the scope and limitation of the
coalition idea in the context of the new body of constitutional changes.
attention is given to the need in specific conflict situation to allow an
opponent to debate changes rather than try to wrest them by other means. It
is plain, blunt dismissal of it. It's always about the past, and about selling
and its manipulation seem to be a life and death game. For some, power has
a front door and a back door.
reason that the PPP can always come in the front door through periodic elections.
It has the electoral arithmetic to ensure this. So, it is being advised to
shut the back door lest the PNC sneak into the powerhouse.
one bothers over such trivia as to what happens if someone desperate enough
to get in, decides to break the whole house down!
our common Guyana home there must be room for everyone. There must be a place
for Indians and Africans, and for all other Guyanese ethnic groupings. We
have to deal with our present by building structures for the future.
believe in the power of the future to over-ride the past. The future wants
us to bury our failures, our burnt hair and singed minds.
we can put the past behind where it belongs, we can re-image our country.
We can begin to see not its divisions, its hatred and its poverty but its
potential for unity and the prosperity of our people in the future.
I believe that though democracy has been restored in a formal sense at the electoral level, something in Guyana has failed, and is failing badly. Since Cheddi Jagan died, we experienced turbulence in the tide of things.
is with this in my restless mind that I say that our democracy requires a
re-definition. The loser in an electoral contest cannot be seen as enemy.
We must console and accommodate the loser. The enemy we destroy.
democracy must have room, in the context of our ethnic-based voting pattern
and political loyalties, for both winner and loser. This makes it an inclusive,
national democracy that is, at the same time, participatory and revolutionary.
democracy means nothing if only two parties share the electoral power, but
cannot work together for the interest and protection of the nation. The essence
of our democracy must therefore be bi-partisan, and the approach to major
problems must be united and national.
put, it requires maximum cooperation between the PPP and the PNC. It must
not be a piecemeal measure or an opportunistic excursion. It must be an institutional
arrangement that brings the parties together and working on a mutual agenda.
feel sure that the new leader of the PNC would show great vision and would
turn the current tide of pressure politics away from confrontation into the
healthy stream of negotiation. No issue should be beyond reconciliation.
example, we ought not war over "Black clothes" policemen. We should
agree on what is effective policing. To use the wisdom of the Chinese leader,
Deng Xioping: "it does not matter whether a cat is black or white so
long as it catches mice".
time is now for us to bring an end to our intransigence. We need new thinking
and courage to go forward.
those who want to live in the shadow of Cheddi Jagan, might we not ask: were
he alive, would he not have examined broadly all new ideas, even if those
ideas are transient, to postpone an alternative that spells catastrophe or
to buy time?
for a ruling party is worth buying
greatest test is that of leadership. It is the leadership of both the PPP
and the PNC sharing a common vision for the good of Guyana. We can debate
the facts of who is the better leader and we may not be proven wrong in our
let us be guided, just for now, by Rabindranath Tagore who once wrote: "there
runs a current of humanity which overpasses the tangles of facts and leads
us to the person who is greater than his deeds and truer than his surroundings".
writer is a former PPP/C Government Minister and Member of Parliament)
SHARING IN A PLURAL SOCIETY
Posted December 28th. 2002 - By Dr. Tara Singh - Dr Dhanpaul Narine
THE CASE OF GUYANA
The founders of the Guyanese nation had envisaged a society in which all peoples (the six races) would mingle, live in peace, and share a common destiny. Unfortunately, this has not happened. As recent events have confirmed, racial insecurity and distrust run deep in Guyana. Indeed, "apathy," "distrust," and "fear" are some of the expressions that have been commonly used to describe the current Guyana situation. And cherished principles, to the extent that these exist in political discourses, have become a casualty in the process.
Perceived weaknesses in public policy have also made the country increasingly vulnerable to foreign designs, especially as these relate to Guyana's territorial integrity. Neighboring countries have already occupied sections of Guyana and are conducting illicit business nonchalantly in hinterland areas, having been oblivious to the role of any local law enforcement machinery. Some scholars, like Prof CY Thomas, have even suggested the existence of a vast international criminal enterprise that has already infiltrated organs of the state apparatus.
In the coastal areas, violence continues to take its toll on peace loving Guyanese, whose psyche has been battered by these seemingly relentless attacks, some spontaneous and some planned. Glossy pronouncements by politicians cannot paper over the reality of ethnic insecurity and its concomitant of violence.
Clearly, the present political system, based on the so-called Westminister model, is not working. East Indians and Africans, who make up the majority (90%) of the country's population vote strictly along racial lines. Elections have been analogous to racial referenda, in which the majority group takes all. "This winner takes all" approach has caused the minority parties (opposition) to remain perpetually in the shadows without any hope of shaping national policy. The frustration that has been created by this system has recently led to the main opposition party's frequent engagements in illegal and unconventional methods with a view to making its voice heard. It seems that "race" and "violence" have become integral to that strategy.
Untangling these forces would not be easy. But we have to make a start if we are going to rescue Guyana from its plunge into despair. How long more would Guyana bleed as political parties fight each other for power and control? After decades of hate, intolerance, and distrust that utterly divide the nation and create an apparent unpatchable racial chasm, the time to stop this hemorrhage is now. We must seek a change that would herald in a bold and new vision for the country. Power sharing is central to that vision.
Power sharing brings into the political arena a different constitutional arrangement, which sets out the formula for participation in the legislature and the government. Under the applicable rules a parliamentary political party will have a relatively equal chance as the other party of participating not only in the legislative body, but also, in the Government (Cabinet) and in Statutory Bodies, in proportion to their voting strength. It will thus restore a fundamental principle of democracy in the political process, called equity. "Inclusivity" in Parliamentary Select Committees or Joint Committees, as is the current practice, is not power sharing, though it could be a step in the right direction.
It is time to move beyond the era of Jagan and Hoyte. In a new political environment, power sharing and equity will help to move Guyanese away from the politics of "them"and "us," and will lay the basis for restoring citizens' faith in the political system that is so fundamental to unlocking the powerful restraints on the country's progress. It (power sharing) will empower Guyanese both at the political and the economic levels in a way that was never seen before in the country. Thus the stage will be set for Guyanese to have an equal stake in the country's welfare, as well as, in its form of governance.
We believe in the power of an idea whose time has come. This idea, power sharing, has the potential to create stability, foster broad and inclusive involvement in governance, as well as, promote national development. Accordingly, we now commend power sharing to the people of Guyana. We must not lose this opportunity for history will not be kind to us.
Based on our study, so far, we believe that power sharing for Guyana is an idea whose time has come. The public debate on this idea should, therefore, intensify, and all the enlightened opinions generated should form the basis for appropriate constitutional changes that would also ensure the participation of all significant parliamentary parties in the governmental process based on the "equal proportion" rule. While the so-called dialogues among the political parties are useful, these tend to address only the symptoms, and not the root causes of political alienation and ethnic insecurity. We must have dialogues, of course, but we also have to move beyond these to consider alternative methods of governance such as power sharing.
After being relegated to virtual obscurity in political discourses for decades, recent political developments in Guyana, as well as, in Trinidad and Tobago, have cast power sharing onto the political radar of both countries. Although we had previously expressed some serious doubts based on academic, constitutional, and logistical grounds (see Guyana Monitor dated April, 1998, and Caribbean Journal dated May 29, 1999) on the viability of introducing power sharing into the constitutional and legal arrangements of Guyana, further probing into this subject has shown that our initial misgivings might have been ill-founded. Our apparent love for the Westminster model of government (with such features as "winner takes all," and "shadow cabinet") had also blind-sighted us to the extent that we had failed to fully explore alternative methods of participation in governance. The slumber is over. We must begin to challenge traditional notions of governance in light of contemporary conditions, including the technological revolution.
Some countries have, for decades, questioned the legitimacy of key features of the Westminster model, such as "winner takes all" and the "shadow cabinet." The former has been likened onto a game of chance (a lottery). If you win, you get everything (the full control of the government), and if you lose you get nothing. Any system that dis-enfranchises huge segments of the population in this way has to be revised. Who governs and the type of governance should not be left to chance!
Closely related to the idea of "winner takes all," is the concept of "shadow cabinet." The opposition parties have been led to believe that although they didn’t win the election, that they should not necessarily view themselves as powerless. Instead, they should be regarded as the alternative government, of which some members constitute the shadow cabinet. They could come to power in the unlikely event that the current government falls. This bit of colonial psychology that finds expression in various constitutions, had worked well up to now. Our challenge is to end this delusion.
Otherwise, our ability to arrive at a credible political solutions that could ease or even eliminate apathy, ethnic insecurity, fear, and political violence, would be further diminished.
If a different political method, say power sharing, has the potential to solve the nagging problems of exclusion, ethnic insecurity, and lack of cohesion, then we must be prepared to examine it fully, and begin a national debate on its efficacy. We must defer to the national good as this inevitably takes precedence over our personal idiosyncracies.
We also recognize that power sharing is not free from inherent problems. For example, one of the biggest challenges that could emerge, is the potential for deadlock over strategies that would shape policies. In this regard, we have suggested the creation of a special Constitutional Board to handle this and other similar matters.
We view power sharing as operating inter-connectedly at three levels: one is the sharing of power at the ministerial or cabinet level, including the Presidency. The other is the sharing of power at the legislative level through the re-establishment of a Bicameral Legislature. The third level is the sharing of power in Statutory Bodies (e.g., Tender Board) and Commissions (e.g., Police).
We don’t believe that there is any sound basis for applying this idea at the lower levels of government, for example, the civil service bureaucracy. Though top bureaucrats (civil servants) may advise on public policy, this body serves mainly as the vehicle to carry out government’s policies. Worse yet, power sharing within the civil service will politicize this body and render it dysfunctional. As far as is practicable, the civil service must be "neutral" for the sake of good governance. Matters like redressing perceived job imbalances within the public sector or the award of contracts, could be handled by an Equal Opportunity Commission.
Power sharing is different from the idea of a "coalition," which is a governmental arrangement based on convenience, rather than on necessity. By its very definition, a coalition is "a temporary alliance of factions," and usually occurs in times of national emergency. Coalition governments do not survive for too long. Different party tactics and strategies could be major obstacles to policy consensus. One party could dominate the other(s) in the coalition, too. Guyanese history has also taught us some valuable lessons: for example, in 1964, when one party had been able to dominate the other coalition partner. It must also be noted that the establishment of equity in the sharing of governmental power in not necessarily a goal of a coalition government. But equity is central to power sharing.
In power sharing, the partners to government are determined by a constitutional stipulation, which also sets out the formula for sharing in the government. In power sharing, too, each of the party to the government will have relatively equal chance (in proportion to voting strength) of influencing legislation and public policy. These would, for the most part, be pre-determined in broad terms at the Constitutional Conference. Again, in power sharing, all parties in the government have to sign a Declaration that they will abide by the Constitutional Provisions and faithfully carry out policy initiatives produced and ratified at the Constitutional Conference.
Inherent within our proposal, is the establishment of a Constitutional Board (comprising seven members to be chosen by all parliamentary parties), similar along the lines of an Ombudsman, but with enforcement power to adjudicate matters whenever there is deadlock among the major parties in the formulation of policies. This office is of pivotal importance if power sharing is going to work for the benefit of Guyana. We expect the process (of debate, constitutional amendments, etc) to last for the next 12 months. If this new system is accepted, then general elections could be held to coincide with the next scheduled date for general elections in Guyana.
We believe that in a country with less than 1 million people, arriving at consensus on broad policy issues, at least theoretically, should not be too difficult a process. For example, all political parties would want to embrace policies aimed at reducing crime, unemployment, poverty, homelessness, and malnutrition. All will agree on the need to boost educational standards, production, and productivity, as well as, public safety. We expect that to the extent that differences emerge, therefore, these will mostly be over strategies. From a historical perspective, at least, much policy formulation among the major parties have sprung from the same ideological source, that is, socialism or some variant of this ideology. Strategic differences should not, therefore, be insurmountable.
We will adjust this proposal as we study further this subject and receive feedbacks from various sources. At times we have not produced enough details on functional responsibilities, processes, and procedures. These will flow from the ensuing national debates and discourses. As indicated before, we don’t believe, however, that the "devil" is in the details.
Power Sharing in Perspective
Guyanese, both at home and abroad, as well as Trinidadians, have been studying the possible implications of power sharing for national unity and development for a number of years now. Elsewhere, such as in Mauritius, Fiji, Indian Jammu and Kashmir, Sri Lanka, and Bosnia-Herzegovina the people there have come to grips with the stark reality of ethnic insecurity, despair, and violence, and want to avert further destruction to their respective countries. They have thus implemented some form of power sharing. We can learn, but not necessarily copy, from the experiences of those countries.
It may be useful to draw upon the recent experience of Mauritius, though their situation is not so complicated as that of Guyana. Mauritius has a population of 1.2 million of which 66% are Indians, 30% Afro-Creoles, and 4% Chinese & Others. The ruling Mauritius Labor Party headed by Navin Ramgoolam was defeated in the recent elections by the MMM (Mouvement Militant Mauricien) and MSM (Mouvement Socialiste Mauricien) Alliance which secured 53 of the 62 seats. In a pre-poll arrangement, it was decided that Sir Anerood Jugnauth of MSM be the Prime Minister for three years, and he will next move on to take over the Presidency. The Leader of the MMM, Mr Paul Berenger, who serves as Finance Minister for the three years, will take over the Prime Ministership at the end of Jugnauth’s three-year term.
The case of Indian Jammu and Kashmir also illustrates the willingness of political parties to come up with new solutions to address the nagging political problems that had bedeviled national cohesion and development. This model of power sharing, however, is different from the one that we are developing for Guyana. But essentially, the underlying principle is similar, that is, inclusion and participation in governmental functions.
In Bosnia-Herzegovina, the leadership in government is rotated among three ethnic groups (Serb, Croat, Muslim). Each ethnic-based party gets its turn at the Presidency for a duration of six months. According to a report in the Daylight Newspaper, "the international community ...has developed mechanisms to prevent a rule by any one group at any level in the country." No one suggests that this is a perfect arrangement. But the Bosnians are willing to try new ideas at governance. This may help to calm civil strife there.
In Sri Lanka, it has just been reported (on 12/5/02) by the BBC World Service that the Tamil Tigers and the Singhalese have agreed in principle to some form of power sharing, as the best way forward to solve decades of entrenched ethnic hostilities.
The preceding examples suggest that if the old methods are not working, then we must explore the potential for alternative methods of governance. We believe that with the proper infrastructure in place, power sharing could be an important instrument of national cohesion. We have, of course, to hammer out essential logistical details, and allow for conceptual clarity.
Winner Does Not Take All
Power Sharing in a rudimentary form was suggested by Sidney King (now Eusi Kwayana) in the early 1960's. Kwayana felt then that if the two major races (Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese) could not share power they might as well live separately (partition). He advanced the concept of joint-premiership. Kwayana pointed out that the election results of 1961 suggested that Guyanese voted for some kind of joint development given the fact that the PPP received 43%, and the PNC 41.2% of the votes cast. At that time he had favored the Cyprus model of power sharing, though not too many Guyanese knew anything then, and now, about that model. To his credit, Kwayana did anticipate how race in Guyana would become a negative factor in development.
However, both nationalist leaders at the time, Dr Cheddi Jagan, and Mr LFS Burnham, frowned upon Kwayana’s suggestion, and castigated him for wanting to divide the country. Dr Jagan and Mr Burnham, according to Michael Parris, believed that they could ultimately govern effectively on their own, and still secure the unity of the races. They felt that power sharing was for losers. We believe that this position flowed out of their common ideological orientation, that is, their grounding in socialism. In their view, race was a function of class and exploitation, and with the application of so-called socialist principles to the society, race would cease to be a key factor in social relations. History has proven both men to be wrong.
Jagan later realized that race was indeed pivotal to social stratification, but did not fully grasp its connection to the question of political legitimacy. Prior to Guyana’s Independence talks in London, Dr Jagan did speak with Mr Burnham about power sharing, but it was just political rhetoric. Burnham was not interested, and Jagan’s commitment didn’t seem to be strong. David Hinds reminds us that a decade later (in 1976) the PPP offered, as one form of power sharing, the concept of "National Patriotic Front" government comprising the two main parties, and other patriotic forces. Hinds also points out that in 1979 the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) advanced the notion of "Government of National Unity and Reconstruction."
In either case, the mechanics were never worked out. There had not been any public debates on these overtures, either. Indeed, power sharing had disappeared from the radar of the two main political parties in the 1980s.
Prior to the 1985 general elections which saw the PNC’s return to power, the smaller political parties had showed a keen interest in power sharing. Five of the six main opposition parties formed the Patriotic Coalition for Democracy (PCD) to press forward with major electoral reforms, as well as, for participation in the government. But participation in the government by the smaller parties did not happen. The PNC was not opened then to the idea of power sharing. And the PPP’s position appeared ambivalent.
It was not until the early 1990s, that Jagan unwittingly caused the idea of power sharing to be shifted eventually onto the national agenda, when he introduced the slogan, "winner does not take all." It would appear that "winner does not take all" was a good concept to counteract the inverted slogan linked to the People’s National Congress (PNC), "All for Forbes". Under revised election rules, the PNC lost control of the government in 1992. The PPP was able to form the new government with assistance from the United Force Party (TUF) and the Working People’s Alliance Party (WPA). In a rather loose interpretation of the concept, "winner does not take all," the PPP’s claim to inclusive government was based just on its appointment of civic leaders like Henry Jeffrey, Dale Bisnauth, and Asgar Ally to the government. We emphasize that this purported commitment to inclusion, was not power sharing. In power sharing, all the major parliamentary parties (whether two, three, four, etc., in number) must be involved in the formation of the government, and this did not happen.
The "civic" component of the government was analogous to the idea of "technocrat" that had been introduced by Burnham’s PNC. That was not power sharing, either. The civic or technocrat does not have a political constituency. Neither the civic nor the technocrat could claim their source of power as residing in the people’s will. While such notions of civic and technocrat embrace classical political thought in the Platonic tradition, serious doubts are now being cast on their relevance to modern governmental affairs.
For sure, civics and technocrats have their part to play, but their roles should be more in the advisory and technical capacities. We believe that un-constitutional practices, like this, should be discarded.
Proportional Representation (PR) Does Not
Mean Representative Government
This leads to another important point. In a democracy, people theoretically, should speak forcefully at the ballots. Guyana had a first-past-the-post system (in which the candidate who received the most votes for a particular geographic constituency would win that seat), but the imposition of the Duncan Sandys’ formula in 1963, which was conceived with active American collusion, changed not only the electoral system to proportional representation (a system in which voters cast their ballots for a particular party, instead of a particular candidate), but also, the entire political landscape of the country by ousting the Marxist-based PPP from power in 1964.
The 1964 general elections under PR was generally believed to be the last "free and fair" elections. Ever since, PR has been associated with electoral "rigging," not to mention the chronic problems associated with under-development.
PR had never produced representative government. Not only did huge segments of the population have no effective representation in government, but also, particular geographic areas had no elected legislative representatives. Although parties usually assign members to serve as representatives to particular regions, those representatives have not been elected by those areas/regions and are technically not accountable to the people there. Thus, constituents in a particular geographic area (or election district) could not fire any representative at the next elections, as happens in the case of representative government elsewhere.
PR provided the pretext for the British’s overthrow of the PPP government. It also created the avenue for the PNC to capture political power. With the introduction of PR into the electoral system in 1964, the stage was set not for good governance, but rather, for the exacerbation of racial tensions, the persistence of under-development, and the further polarization of the races.
Once the PNC was able to form a coalition government with help from the TUF, they didn’t find it necessary to look at other forms of governmental arrangements. Power sharing was not fashionable in political discourses then. To impress the people that the system under PR is working, the government engaged in conspicuous consumption projects. The flawed economic policies combined with sluggish commodity prices caused the Guyanese economy to plunge into protracted recession. The new electoral system of PR had failed to deliver on promises, and would continue to dis-enfranchise huge segments of the population.
The PNC’s Case for Power Sharing
With the introduction of major electoral reforms in the early 1990s under Hoyte’s watch, a process facilitated by the Carter Center and overseas-based Guyanese, the stage was set not only for general elections under a revised system, but also, for a change in the country’s governmental administration.
At three subsequent elections (1992, 1997, 2001), the PNC Party had failed to secure its usual majority of Parliamentary seats under the PR system. And the new configuration of the country’s demographic map did not give them much encouragement either. Hoyte’s PNC mistakenly thought that they had made reasonable inroads into the Indo-Guyanese voting strength by first wooing Indian businesses. Like so many other politicians, they too, failed to read how race-based voting was so strongly entrenched in Guyanese politics. The PPP had made similar miscalculations regarding Afro-Guyanese voters.
Having failed to get a majority of the votes in the 1992 general elections, the PNC still fancied its chances of winning at the 1997 polls. Whether that feeling was based on a different reading of the country’s demographic map, and/or the belief that they could still be able to penetrate the racial barrier and obtain a substantial number of Indo-Guyanese votes as well, is uncertain. However, when the results of the 1997 elections were announced, the PNC were stunned again.
One does not have to be a rocket scientist to know that race was, once again, the determinant factor in influencing voting choices.
Given the demographics of the country, therefore, and the ethnic-based voting patterns, the PNC hierarchy believes that its chances of recapturing power under the present system is poor. The party must, therefore, seek alternative strategies of participation in the governmental process. Hoyte’s statement in support of some kind of power sharing at the 2002 PNC/Reform Party’s Congress in Georgetown merely brought to the public what many PNC/Reform supporters had shared privately for some time.
The Main Political Parties’ Turn Around!
While the major political parties, the PPP and the PNC, never had any serious public discussions on power sharing, the smaller political parties had embraced this idea for some time. The lukewarm response to power sharing by the two main political parties is not surprising. The PNC did not want to readily say that it could not win an election because the demographics are against the party. After all, the hallmark of a good party is to rise above these and other divisions.
While the PPP may want to say that it is a broad-based party, its support is still predominantly from Indo-Guyanese. On the basis of their voting strength, there could hardly be any incentive to entertain such notion, as power sharing. Given the relatively high rates of emigration, the demographic map may not always be in their favor.
We had indicated earlier, too, that both the PNC and the PPP leadership mistakenly thought that they could secure the unity of the masses by working separately.
But a number of developments, including persistent civil unrest, have been exerting pressures on all sides to consider their position on power sharing. In the current parliamentary system, the opposition parties have little chance of getting legislation passed. The situation in Guyana is unlike that of the United States where the minority party can get legislation passed through the sponsorship of joint bills (by members of both the Republican and Democratic parties). The PNC and other political parties that are not part of the government have an uphill struggle to influence future public policy or shape legislation. The PPP suffered a similar fate during the PNC’s rule.
An opposition member’s activity is essentially confined to debates, speeches, and rallies. Thus, the present system dilutes the effectiveness of the opposition’s role in governance. This is the Westminster system that we have inherited, and have embraced uncritically for several decades. Other countries had discovered flaws with this model sooner than us. At least, we are now beginning to wake up.
A leading advocate of power sharing is former Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister, Basdeo Panday, though some observers like Selwyn Ryan, question his sincerity and timing on this matter. Having had decades of political experience in the so-called British parliamentary system, Panday argues that power sharing will heal racial wounds; promote stability; and foster growth in the twin island republic. He has recently made a very telling point on the idea of power sharing. "When you have a situation in which one half of the population feel that they do not have a slice of the pie, genuine development cannot take place."
Power Sharing and Equity
The PNC has always viewed PPP’s policies with deep suspicion. They pointed out to the disproportionate amount of national resources deployed in PPP-based areas. "Domestically, Jagan’s policies were seen as favoring the rural interests of the Indo-Guyanese over those of the Afro-Guyanese population, concentrated mostly in the urban areas, and bauxite mining towns," observes the Carter Center. In a different study, J.E. Green also showed how the allocation of resources during the PPP administration was perceived as being skewed in favor of Indo-Guyanese.
More recently, a prominent Afro-Guyanese intellectual called into question the huge expenditure (of $70 [US]) earmarked for the construction of a sugar factory at Skeldon, Berbice, that is expected to be completed in 2005. The PPP argues that this project will boost production from 36,000 tons to 112,000 tons of sugar. It will result in increased acreage from 5,600 hectares to 11,1000 hectares, as well as, reduced production cost from $0.20(US) per pound to the world level of $0.11(US) per pound. He questions why weren’t similar investments made in the Demerara region, where more Afro-Guyanese live, and therefore, stand to benefit from such enhancement. In short, he argues that there is a political, rather than an economic justification for this project.
The PNC supporters claim that PNC policies couldn’t be that bad, after all, Indo-Guyanese business flourished under their rule. PPP supporters, in turn, remind the PNC supporters that the parallel economy, for example, was dominated by Afro-Guyanese, and the patronage machinery kept churning out jobs for party card-holders. However, It does not matter which of the two main political parties is in power, charges and counter charges would be always prevalent, and bitterness will never subside.
The perception of a distortion in the allocation of national resources is adding to the PNC’s feeling of hopelessness, and exacerbated by their poor prospects of recapturing political power through the ballots for some time to come. But whatever the origin of their feelings or motivation, or whatever were their past failings, Guyana cannot afford to bleed further. Let’s put power sharing to the test! Let’s help to build a national consensus on this, and let’s make the necessary constitutional amendments, and put it to work for at least one term (of five to six years). At the end of this period, we could either review and refine it, or discard it.
How Relevant is Economic Empowerment?
Power sharing is about economic empowerment according to
one senior PPP Minister. But would power sharing ensure economic empowerment for the masses? In theory, it holds that promise. Inclusion and participation will inspire Guyanese to work harder, not only for their own personal development, but also, that of their country. We are confident that power sharing will occupy its rightful place in participatory democracy.
Experience has shown us that having political power is not necessarily compatible with economic empowerment. At a practical level, for example, the intended results may not match with our expectations. What is crucial, however, is how officials use that power. The PNC, which had been in power for 28 years, for example, was unable to empower its own supporters, much less the nation, at the economic level. Its flamboyant program to redress economic disparities through the adoption of a tripartite economic system in which cooperatives would ultimately become the dominant sector, failed to redistribute incomes in any significant way.
Different Levels of Power Sharing
In discussing the different levels of power sharing, we must also seek some conceptual clarity. We have pointed out before that there are three levels of power sharing. First, there is power sharing at the governmental (or Cabinet) level. Second, there is sharing of power between two legislative bodies through the re-establishment of a bicameral legislature. Third, there is power sharing at Boards, Commissions, and Parliamentary Sub-Committees. All these levels would work in a symbiotic relationship. We do not envisage power sharing at the lower level (bureaucracy) of government.
Yet others speak about a fourth level, called federalism. We believe that this form of governance cannot work for Guyana. For one thing, it could lead to insurmountable logistical problems, like in the allocation of human and natural resources to the regions/states. Who gets what and how much? Communal dislocations would exceed the capacity of the authorities to handle. And if the underlying reason is to separate the races, then we would have succeeded in isolating race (or racism) as the cornerstone of public policy. Furthermore, what kind of statement would we be making especially to our children and the international community?
In our view, federalism is not an attractive proposition for Guyana. The three proposed levels of power sharing--to allay insecurity, exclusion, instability, and underdevelopment--offer better possibilities.
Structure and Process:
A pre-poll constitutional conference among all the parliamentary parties (inclusive of NGOs) should be convened a few weeks before the general elections by the Constitutional Board, with a view to clarifying each party’s approach to power sharing, as well as, articulating their policy agenda. This would be followed by a second constitutional conference (post-poll) immediately after general elections, (but before the formation of a government), to allow the main political parties to refine, reconcile, and consolidate broad policy goals for adoption by the forthcoming government.
The second conference in particular should be broken up into sub-committees with each having responsibility for specific subjects, like education, health, security, labor, etc. Each will report back to the Conference. If there is no consensus, then the Convener should produce both a majority and a minority report, which will then be reviewed by the Conference Board, and if no agreement is reached, these reports will be reviewed by the leadership of the two main parties (or by the three or four main parties, if a significant third and a fourth party emerge).
If, at this point, there is still a deadlock, then the newly created independent Constitutional Board (comprising seven members drawn from all parliamentary parties) will intervene with a view to arriving at a settlement. This office will have enforcement power; will review the reports; invite further comments; and prepare the final report which shall be binding on all parties. It can function like an Arbitration Tribunal. In the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina, a "High Representative" has power to impose laws and fire politicians, among other things.
The Head, as well as, other members could be rotated for periods of two to three years.
Legislative, as distinct from policy measures, will be tabled and debated in the usual way in Parliament. However, if there are other parties that are not part of the power sharing arrangement, then these should be allowed to table their motions/legislation at say, one session per month in Parliament. No piece of legislation should be allowed to die. It must be brought up for debate within a period of say 8 to 10 weeks at the most. We have to ensure that the Speaker of the Lower House and the President (or Speaker) of the Upper House (Senate) do not have too much power, to the extent that they could unilaterally kill legislation. All broad policy matters will be first advanced, discussed, and ratified at the second Constitutional Conference. In this way, no significant parliamentary party will be excluded from policy making.
It has been argued that a functional democracy needs a good opposition. With this premise, we propose that the smaller parliamentary parties (with less than 15% of the popular votes) serve in this role. This would probably prevent, what some people fear, the emergence of a multi-party dictatorship. If a smaller party eventually receives, say over 15% of the popular votes then it can stake a legitimate claim to share power in proportion to that voting strength. The Guyanese voters will eventually decide, under this system, whether they need more than two major political parties.
Forming the Government:
After elections for the Lower House are held, and if two (or three or four!) of the main parties polled the highest number of votes cast (but in excess of 25%), they should be asked to form the new government. The party that receives a simple majority of the popular votes (50% and over) in the Lower House will first be allocated the Presidency for two to three years. At the end of this period, the Presidency goes to the party that polled the second highest number of votes.
The party with the second highest number of popular votes, will be offered first, the position of Prime Minister for two to three years. At the end of this period, the Presidency goes to this party, and the Prime Ministership goes to the party that polled the most votes. If a third or fourth party receives in excess of 25% of the popular votes, it could also be invited to form the government, and share in the Presidency and Prime Ministership.
We should probably extend the life of Parliament to six (6) years to accommodate this scenario.
The Prime Minister could also serve as President of the Senate. The President should always be the head of the Cabinet. No one parliamentary party should hold the Presidency and the Prime Ministership at the same time.
The current powers of the President (that are imperial in some respects) should be curtailed before power sharing measures are put into force. The powers of the Prime Minister should also be reviewed.
At the ministerial level, the idea is to share power in proportion to the number of votes obtained at the general elections For example, assuming there are 15 Cabinet positions, if Party X receives 40% of the popular votes, then that party may be entitled to at least 6 cabinet seats. Ministries, especially key ones such as Home Affairs, Education, Finance, and Foreign Affairs, could be rotated among party candidates for similar periods of time. No one should hold a ministerial position, or a series of ministerial positions, for more than 10 to 12 years (two 5 or 6-year terms). Already in many states, politicians are not allowed to run for office for more than two terms. The US President can only hold such office for two four-year terms. Limiting politicians’ terms will attract smart people into politics, and will also help to break the stranglehold that some politicians exercise over the political process.
Would such allocation of cabinet seats be compatible with the principle of collective responsibility? We say "yes." Whose party’s policies will take precedence at the Ministries? All parties will have the opportunity to participate in policy formulation via the Constitutional Conference, and other media.
Further, in the unlikely event that one party should withdraw from the government, the smaller parties could be asked to replace it. If their numeric strength in either House is insufficient, their numbers could be augmented by tapping into the NCLDO. Alternatively, the Elections Commission, on the advice of the President (or the Constitutional Board), could call fresh general elections.
We have earlier alluded to the re-establishment of a bicameral legislature. Guyana once had a bicameral legislature, (prior to constitutional changes of the 1950s) comprising the Upper Chamber (whose members were appointed) and the Lower Legislative Chamber (whose members were elected). In the plantation system, there were the Combined Court (Taxation) and the Court of Policy (Legislation).
An Upper Chamber or Senate, could focus more on special interests and needs, including those of geographic regions, as well as, serve as a check on the Lower Chamber, and vice versa. Perhaps we may want to consider electing the Lower House through "Proportional Representation", and the Upper House (Senate) through "First Past the Post" system.
Currently, one could argue that there is no need for more than 53 seats in the Lower House. The 10 members of Parliament who are elected by the Local Democratic Organs (LDOs) and 2 by the National Council for Local Democratic Organs (NCLDO) could be elected instead to serve in the Upper Chamber. The Prime Minister could be the President of the Senate. The ratio of Senators to Representatives is 1:4, which is almost similar to that of the United States Congress.
Both the Upper and Lower Houses will have power to initiate legislation, as well as, review legislation from the other chamber. As noted before, policies that drive legislation will get pre-clearance at the Constitutional Conference. Bills must be passed in both Houses before being sent to the President for signature. In case of deadlocks between the two Chambers, these could be worked out at a Joint Conference between Representatives of both Houses. This method works well in the American system. It could be modified for use in Guyana.
The Upper House could also be asked to ratify top positions in the government like Permanent Secretaries, Diplomats, Executive Heads of Boards and Commissions. Smaller parliamentary parties, not represented in the government, should be given the opportunity to nominate candidates for these positions.
The main argument against an upper chamber is the additional financial burden it would create, as well as, to slow down legislation. By electing 12 less representatives from the Lower House, that would represent some substantial savings there. We believe that the rest of the financial obligation is a price Guyanese would be willing to pay in exchange for peace, stability and inclusion.
Appropriate checks and balances have to be introduced into the system so as to ensure that parties within the government do not subvert the democratic process. There is historical precedent for such maneuvers. The Fijian experience is informative in this regard. Although the 1997 Fijian constitution made provision for any party that gets 10% of the parliamentary seats to be represented in the government, the Laisenia Qarase government has failed to implement this, and other provisions, of the constitution. Both the High Court and the Fiji Court of Appeal have ruled in favor of the constitution, that is, governmental power has to be shared with the other main political party, which is the Fiji Labor Party (FLP). The present Qarase government has appealed this decision to the Higher Courts.
For reasons similar to this, we have argued that all the main parliamentary parties must sign a Declaration, (as distinct from taking an Oath), enforceable by the courts, saying that they will uphold the integrity of the new (or revised) constitution, and faithfully implement the policies of the government, as defined and ratified at the second Constitutional Conference, the Constitutional Board, and other duly authorized bodies charged with policy formulation. Parliamentarians should also declare that they subscribe to an equal employment opportunity statement which is immediately made public.
Other logistical details will have to be worked out.
Proportionate Representation in Statutory Bodies:
Statutory bodies, such as Commissions, Select Committees, and Tender Boards wield considerable power. How these distribute resources and privileges have also come under attack. The theory is that if there is proportionate representation by all Parliamentary Parties in these bodies, the democratic process deepens, and there is a corresponding diminished role of cronyism in the political process. We don’t know whether this is necessarily true, but it’s worth serious consideration.
Qualifications for membership should be carefully worked out by these bodies and sent to the respective Ministry for review and modification based on standards developed at the Constitutional Conference. While smaller parties may not be represented at the Cabinet level, these should be represented at this level.
We reiterate, in making a number of deductions, we have relied upon historical trends, and assumed that voting behavior would not change significantly for some time to come. It’s a sad indictment of a political system where good public policy does not drive voting behavior, but rather, the color of the person. It makes a mockery of democracy and questions the higher purpose of our education and humanity. Power sharing may be able to neutralize the negative impact of race on public policy.
Our pre-occupation with power sharing must not blind us to the other important measures that need to be considered simultaneously. We believe in the goal of equality of opportunity. We believe in fair play and social justice. We believe that every Guyanese has a stake in the political future of the country. We also believe in unity in diversity.
In the history of Guyana, these ideals had not been realized. We believe that power sharing has the potential to alter this picture.
But we also believe that while power sharing is an essential pre-requisite for national reconciliation and development, it will not necessarily solve all the problems of poverty, crime, and neglect. Economic opportunities and ethnic security also come from a nation that has faith in its other institutions, such as education and health, as well as, the Judiciary. As a result, additional structures are needed to work alongside power sharing, such as an Equal Opportunity Commission with enforcement powers. These institutions have been playing major roles in western industrialized societies in ameliorating racial tensions, prejudices in employment, among other things.
The powers of the Office of the Auditor General, should be expanded so that it can have, for example, the ability to request the Director of Public Prosecutions to investigate cases of malfeasance, on the part of both bureaucrats and politicians. Needless to say, all politicians in the government should sign an Integrity Pledge, and this should be publicly reported.
We should also embark upon programs of urban and rural revitalization as part of a capital strategy. (The types of programs should first be discussed at the Constitutional Conference). Parallel programs for disadvantaged interior areas should be undertaken. Investments in infrastructure can generate jobs, but for only a short time. We need long term jobs, and should, therefore, concentrate more on permanent types of economic activities such as industrial and manufacturing for urban centers, in particular. The government’s industrialization strategy should be upgraded. Economic empowerment zones should be created. Urban centers have high rates of unemployment. Rural unemployment has also been rising. High unemployment rate could trigger widespread social upheaval. This would undermine any thrust towards internal stability and development.
We need to create opportunities for young people whose lives have been, for the most part, enveloped in fear and hopelessness. But our senior citizens also need our attention. They deserve to be treated with dignity. In shaping a new vision, or redesigning the existing system, young and old people must be involved in the process. For now, we can see no other way.
Finally, constitutional arrangements already exist for the devolution of power to Local Democratic Organs (LDOs). But this process has been implemented grudgingly. We need a more comprehensive and coherent approach to devolution. Some of the federalist principles could be modified and applied here. The 10 geographic regions should have full budgetary responsibilities for their respective regions. However, in cases of national emergency, the central government reserves the right to intervene.
Decentralizing governmental functions to compensate, in part, for the lack of effective Parliamentary electoral representation at the central level, would enable the government to secure more grass roots’ participation; and people will begin to feel that they are part of the process, and above all, can indeed influence the outcome. The creation of four separate regional health authorities was a step in the right direction. We note, however, that If the concept of an Upper House is accepted, then the approach to decentralization may be different.
Closely associated with good government, is the need to institute a system of Public Hearings where people at all levels of society will be given the opportunity to speak directly to government officials on a variety of matters. There is no better way to empower people at the grass roots in the governmental process than through this method.
Guyana can enjoy brilliant sunshine and fresh breeze once again with the right political will. Selfishness and parochialism must give way to the public good. Altruism should be fostered at all levels of the society. And yes, we have to demand strong and inspired leadership.
It’s not that we believe power sharing will be Guyana’s
political nirvana, but rather, it (power sharing) should not be allowed to percolate any longer at the periphery of Guyanese political debate. It must bubble at center stage. Why? Power sharing has the potential to heal the gaping wounds that have been inflicted on the nation’s psyche for decades. A political solution to Guyana’s problems would begin, according to Tom Whitney of USAID, "with a government where power is shared between Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese." (Bert Wilkinson: Caribbean Daylight, 11/29/02).
As an alternative form of governance, power sharing has the potential to neutralize calls for Guyana’s partition (Caribbean Daylight: 11/22/02). Even in countries where ethnic cleavages are not significant, exclusion of major segments from the governmental process, is leading to calls for alternative forms of governance. The opposition Jamaica Labor Party, for example, wants a referendum on the model of government for that country. We predict that traditional notions of Wesminster-type democracy will be challenged vigorously by many states in the future.
We have advocated a number of steps. First, there must be a series of public debates to better understand the concept of power sharing and its implication for good governance. Information should be sifted, and then consolidated by a special Constitutional Board set up by the Parliamentary Parties, into a document that will lay the basis for a constitutional amendment. If the constitutional amendments of the Constitutional Conference, and Constitutional Board are approved, then arrangements should be made to hold general elections, which will determine each parliamentary party’s relative strength, and share in the government. We consider two years as a reasonable period for the conduct of debates and the implementation of power sharing proposals.
Second, we broadly visualize power sharing at three levels, but which are closely connected: ministerial or cabinet; legislative; and statutory bodies. There is no great compelling reason to apply power sharing to the public service, including the armed forces bureaucracy. If this happens, it will create a plethora of new problems without even solving the older ones. For example, it will politicize the bureaucracy, and vitiate its neutrality that is so fundamental to good governance. And while the principles of federalism may be laudable, Guyana’s geography, demographics, spatial distribution of natural resources, among other things, will make this arrangement unworkable.
Imbalances in jobs and other areas of perceived discrimination in bureaucratic bodies, could be handled by such statutory organizations as an Equal Opportunity Commission.
A critical component of power sharing is the establishment of a Constitutional Board with enforcement authority to mediate policy deadlocks that are likely to emerge. Also, provision is made for the holding of two all-party Constitutional Conferences that will essentially articulate the broad policy goals to be pursued by the new government.
We don’t believe that power sharing will work without these two constitutional provisions.
Third, the role of the Local Democratic Organs (LDOs) must not be viewed as marginal to the power sharing initiative. Sharing power at the geographic level is an important element in this exercise. The Upper House is expected to have some geographic representation. This will be supplemented by the grant of full budgetary powers to LDOs. We conceive, however, that If an upper house is instituted, the role of LDOs may be different. Public Hearing is an important instrument of participatory democracy. It should be institutionalized in Guyana.
Finally, our new obsession with power sharing must not detract from the other important things, such as urban and rural re-vitalization programs that the country needs in order to achieve peace, stability, social, and economic progress. Not to mention the critical importance of a strong Judiciary. How can we ever feel comfortable when the society is being ripped asunder! The social distress indicator of the country is mind boggling. We have one of the highest rates (1 in every 30 persons) of AIDS/HIV in the Caribbean. And possibly one of the highest rates of lethal violence, too! Worst yet, hope languishes at the bottom of the index.
Power sharing is likened to a ship. If the architect didn’t design it properly, or if the captain is ill-equipped, then the ship will not be able to negotiate the impending turbulence, and might not even reach its destination. However, with proper design work, and astute captaincy, the vessel can travel along its course without encountering any significant hurdles. And the destination will never disappear from its radar.
While complex to implement, power sharing is not beyond our
reach. For the sake of our country and future generations, we must summon our will and courage to skillfully navigate the path ahead.
Time is not on our side. We cannot evade, or treat the matter of power sharing marginally any longer. Power sharing is an idea whose time has come. It belongs to center stage.
WE COMMEND POWER SHARING TO THE PEOPLE OF GUYANA.
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PPP/C's commitment to shared or inclusive governance
Posted December 18th. 2002 - By Dr. Leslie Ramsammy
The PPP/C is not only committed to inclusive governance, but is proud of its leading role in promoting and implementing inclusive governance in Guyana. But the PPP/Câ€™s willingness, inclination or even ability to pursue this path intimately depends on the willingness of opposition parties, mainly the PNC, and other stakeholders, to play their role. The burden of creating an inclusive society must be a shared one and must not be left only to the PPP/C and cannot be the exclusive purview of political parties. The prerequisite is the willingness of all to accept free and fair elections as a foundation for a free, democratic and inclusive society.
The debate over inclusive governance has gathered much intensity in recent months. But, the debate over inclusive governance in Guyana has been a meaningful debate for about a decade. Indeed it existed prior to 1964 and occasionally was discussed over the long 28 years of the PNC dictatorial regime. But no one would deny that the enthusiasm, with which the discussions have been pursued since 1992, and especially since 1997, vastly overwhelms the lacklustre interest to inclusive governance prior to 1992.
There are ideas for shared governance that enjoy consensus support. Many of these have been implemented and others have been provided for in the reformed constitution. Even prior to 1992, some provisions existed for shared governance, but because of rigged elections and the declared policy of party paramountcy by the PNC, these provisions did not contribute to inclusive or shared governance. The fact is that the local government system permits for a certain degree of shared governance and inclusiveness. Since the restoration of democracy, local governments at the level of the Regional Democratic Councils (RDCs), NDCs, CDCs and municipalities truly represent a form of shared governance. Indeed, after the 2001 elections, the governing party controls the RDCs of five regions (Regions 1,2,3,5 and 6), while the main opposition party controls two RDCs (Regions 4 and 10) and the RDCs of three regions (Regions 7,8 and 9) are controlled through coalitions between the PNC and GAP/WPA. The opposition controls the two main municipalities, Georgetown and New Amsterdam. Almost 16% of total appropriations in the 2002 budget are controlled by RDCs alone. In terms of employment costs, more than 33% of the 2002 appropriations are controlled at the levels of RDCs. When one adds the budgets for NDCs, CDCs and municipalities, one realises that already there is a considerable level of shared governance in Guyana. While local government systems exist in other Caribbean countries, none compares to the system presently existing in Guyana.
This form of shared governance has many advantages that would become more pronounced as experience and capacity at local levels improve. Strong efforts to provide training for representatives within the local government structure would enable more effective governance at local levels. We need to continue our discussions on local government reforms so as to derive optimum benefits from improved local government. Strong local government provides the basis for community-led development and at the community level could promote community interest rather than political loyalty. This could be the foundation for inclusive governance in Guyana. The fact is that while many argue that we need greater inclusiveness and shared governance, considerable scope for shared governance and inclusiveness already exists through local and municipal governments. Genuine efforts to create an inclusive society must focus on reforms of the local government system so as to promote effective community participation.
Considerable decision-making and control of employment and expenditure also already reside in other agencies not technically under the influence of central government. For example, employment costs directly controlled by the Auditor Generalâ€™s Office, the Elections Commission, the Police Service Commissions, the Teachers Service Commission, the Judicial Service Commission, the GPHC, the Supreme Court, and the Ombudsman Office comprise almost 8% of total 2002 appropriations for employment costs. Added to the amount controlled by RDCs, NDCs and municipalities, one sees immediately that almost 50% of total Government employment appropriations for 2002 reside outside the control and supervision of central government.
The above agencies together with the many Boards constitute an effective avenue for promoting inclusive governance. Prior to 1992, there was little chance of accomplishing this because the commissions and boards were put together within the concept of party paramountcy. Since 1992, attempts at greater independence have been made. Some of the efforts in this direction have been derived through political and civic society advocacy and some have been institutionalised through constitutional reforms. As greater trust is built in Guyana, these Boards could truly represent vast avenues for inclusiveness.
The reformed constitution, which resulted from the involvement of the PNC and other political parties and civic society, contributes greatly to the process of optimising inclusiveness through this mechanism by seeking to remove any influence of central government over the Commissions that may exists at present. Thus, in terms of the service commissions and other independent agencies provided for in the constitution (for example the various Human Rights Commissions), Guyana has considerable opportunities to exercise the principles of shared governance and inclusiveness addressed in Article 13 of the Constitution. We need to move forward with the provisions relevant to the commissions that have been enshrined in the constitution.
The reformed constitution establishes a rich milieu for shared governance embracing inclusiveness. Indeed, these provisions represent best practices in terms of strong democratic and inclusive principles. In the first place, even if political parties shared power, we could still end up with an arrangement that does not effectively cater for shared governance and inclusiveness if provisions are not made for civic society participation. An inclusive society is more than just arrangements made for participation by political parties. The key is effective consultations that provide a role for civic society. Provisions for consultations with the opposition and with civic society have been enshrined in the reformed constitution. For example, Article 13 establishes inclusive governance whereby Government creates space for the participation of non-political stakeholders in the governance and development of Guyana as one of the pillars upon which inclusive governance could be exercised.
The new constitution makes provision for Parliament to establish laws that define and provides guidelines for consultations. The guidelines are to become law only with a two-third majority. No constitution in the region has this provision. In effect it permits participation by ensuring Government follows agreed upon guidelines whenever it has to consult for certain decisions to be made. Although simple, this provision is a powerful tool to ensure participation in decision-making and has the potential to prevent Government and its agencies and any others from white-washing the consultative process. The PNC could contribute greatly by being in Parliament to pass the enabling legislation that would ensure this important aspect of an inclusive society.
In terms of consultation, the political process of dialogue between the President and the Leader of the Opposition represents another avenue for inclusiveness. No one doubts the usefulness of the almost one-year long dialogue between the two leaders. Perhaps, such dialogue could be extended to include Leaders of other political parties in Parliament. During the dialogue process, important gains were made. The country experienced a period of calm and growing optimism. The dialogue led to the establishment of several committees made up of political, civic society and technical representatives. This proved to be an effective model for inclusiveness. Some of the committees completed their task while others needed more time. The work of the committees demonstrates the enormous possibility, both from the perspective of political dialogue and also the work of broad-based committees. In the end, they provide an avenue for increased inclusiveness. Instead of transforming a great model for inclusiveness into another reason to quarrel, we should accept that this mechanism provides Guyana with another mechanism for inclusiveness. We need to appoint an independent monitor to follow through and report directly to Parliament and to the nation on progress made over agreements resulting from the dialogue.
While most countries in the world have a vast distance to travel in terms of creating room for NGOs and civic society participation, Guyana has taken important steps to establish meaningful roles for NGOs and civic society. The recently held civic society forum is testimony to the increasing commitment of the regionâ€™s governments in this respect. NGOs and civic society have made important strides in carving out a role in Guyanese society during the last decade. Yet we could enhance inclusiveness by defining more empowering mechanisms for civic society. National civic society fora are important avenues for defining these roles.
The reformed constitution addresses the enormous powers of the Presidency and considerably diminishes these powers. Three examples of how the powers of the Presidency are reduced by the reformed constitution are:
* The power to appoint members of the service commissions no longer resides solely in the Presidency. Meaningful consultations (following the new guidelines for consultations) with the Leader of the Opposition and also consultations with the National Assembly are now integral part of appointments to the service commissions. The National Assembly must consult with relevant bodies prior to making nominations for appointments to the service commissions and the President must have meaningful consultations with the Leader of the Opposition prior to any appointments. These are considerable avenues for shared governance in that appointments are made through a shared responsibility between Executive power, political parties and technical stakeholders.
* Appointments of judges, previously residing within the authority of the presidency, now falls within the jurisdiction of the Judicial Service Commission.
* The presidency is limited to two terms for any individual.
It is important to recognise the strength of these provisions: the process does not only seek to strengthen the participation of the opposition in Parliament, but also extends shared governance to civic society in that there are attempts to extend the independence of the service commissions while also giving them greater powers in appointments.
Parliament is an important starting point for inclusiveness in governance. Progress has been stymied by the extended absence of the PNC from Parliament. But it is important to recognise the changes that have been made pertaining to Parliament:
* The present Parliament has a functioning Public Accounts Committee (PAC). This committee has been able to examine the Auditor Generalâ€™s report up to the end of 1999 and is actively considering the 2000 report, making Guyana the most up-to-date country in this respect within CARICOM.
* The function of the PAC has been extended and it now has responsibility for the Auditor Generalâ€™s Office. The Auditor Generalâ€™s Office no longer reports to the Ministry of Finance. This very important office in terms of financial accountability now reports directly to the PAC of Parliament, a standing committee chaired by the opposition. Another important provision also is that the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament subjects the budget of the Auditor Generalâ€™s Office to approval and the approved appropriations come directly from the consolidated fund and not through a Ministry.
* The Constitution makes provision for the establishment of various human rights commissions and commissions that add to financial and procurement accountability. The Human Rights Commission that oversees Commissions for Indigenous Peoples, Children, Women and Gender and Ethnic Rights not only create avenues for shared political responsibility in terms of appointments, but also expand the inclusiveness principle by extending governance to civic society.
* Parliament is intended to have a standing committee to consider appointment matters. This includes making nominations for the various service commissions and also the various human rights commission.
* The provisions to establish Standing Sector Committees for National Security, Natural Resources, Social Sector Development and Foreign Affairs in Parliament provide enormous avenues for shared responsibility. The present impasse over the composition of the Standing Committees can also be resolved through the dialogue process involving the President and the Leader of the Opposition. The only area of disagreement is that the PPP/C wants Ministers to serve on these committees while the PNC reject the idea of Ministers serving.
* Agreement was reached to establish a Parliamentary Management Committee. The implementation of the PMC principle would move Guyana ahead of all the CARICOM countries and enhance inclusive governance. The tragedy is that the present impasse over this matter could be resolved with one meeting between the President and the Leader of the Opposition.
* Through the reformed constitution, the process of providing the regions with elected representatives has started. Thus each region now has specific persons representing them in Parliament. The idea at the constitutional reform process was that the Standing Committee of Parliament on Constitutional matters would examine further this issue.
* The issue of women participation in governance was also advanced as part of the reforms. Political parties must now ensure that 33% of their candidates for political elections are women candidates. The result is that women represent 31% of the elected representatives in Parliament in Guyana.
* Greater use has been made of special select committee during the last ten years. For example, special select committees improved the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill, the Pesticide Bill and the Amendment for the Medical Practitioners Act. This area could benefit from greater diligence by the PPP/C.
* Enhanced use of membersâ€™ day whereby opposition members could ask questions, make statements and move motions have recently been pursued with greater commitment. Thus, in recent times, several motions and dozens of questions have come out of the opposition benches. We ought to be more diligent in this area too.
* A constitution should be a dynamic blueprint for good governance, constantly recognising new avenues for increased participation and for inclusiveness. There is provision for a Parliamentary Standing Committee for Constitutional Reform that would periodically review the constitution in order to ensure that it is constantly improved and that the principle of inclusive governance is strengthened. Parliament must provide enabling legislation for this to happen.
There are several others existing mechanisms that could, under the right circumstances, serve to enhance inclusiveness. The parliamentary mechanism of shadow ministers is an effective way of consultation and inclusiveness by extending dialogue to Ministers and their counterparts in the opposition. The PPP/C has offered this mechanism to the opposition. The opposition would contribute to inclusiveness by accepting this offer.
The President's Youth Initiative in which young people band themselves together for positive community activities could be a powerful force for inclusiveness. We could statutorily place a certain amount of money in the budget annually for allocation to youth initiatives and allow independent assessment of funds, either through a parliamentary mechanism or through a broad based committee.
An important part of an inclusive society is a free, but responsible press. Guyana has come a far way since the PNC regime when press freedom was completely trampled. No one can dispute that Guyana has one of the freest press in the hemisphere. In a generally unregulated environment, the Guyanese press, with notable exception, has been generally irresponsible and has generally abused governmentâ€™s and the societyâ€™s tolerance. An informed population is imperative for an inclusive society. The press is still the best way to accomplish this. But the press must be able to present balanced and fair accounts of what is happening for it to play this role.
In all the debate, thus far, one important point seems to be relegated to the dustbin: the views of the 54% of the people who voted for the PPP/C. In all the discussion of inclusive governance, provisions for the participation of the minority position has taken precedence and people seem to forget that shared governance could never mean the relegation of the views of the majority to some insignificant bother.
The irony is that as the debate over shared governance rages, important provisions for inclusive governance that society has already endorsed remain sadly languishing because of the political impasse and the dishonesty of commentators. The provisions already provided for are not trivial. The many commentators and advocates for shared governance have failed to acknowledge the existence of mechanisms and of constitutional provisions that constitute a strong foundation for inclusiveness. There is no point in talking about further forms of shared governance when you show no proclivity for allowing those we already have to work and to strengthen them. We must begin by having Parliament complete the work it was mandated to through the reformed constitution. But this must not happen without the PNC playing their proper role in Parliament.
Guyana has been innovative and bold in taking many steps to enhance inclusiveness. Perhaps, more examples of boldness and greater need for trust are needed. It is tragic that so many groups and individuals disregard the great strides we have made and, instead, seek to promote disharmony and strife in our country. The overt effort of the PNC to obtain power and their flirtations with criminal elements and dishonest political commentators stand in the way of shared inclusive governance. The cold, hard facts stare at us. Let each one of us take a step back and assess the truth.
on Shared Governance
Posted December 6th. 2002
1. In recent months there has been much discussion on the issue of shared governance. The public debate has been given considerable impetus as a result of the Leader's Address to the party's congress. The statement that "adjusted governance is an idea whose time has come" has made it necessary for the party to develop firm positions on the principles of the new governance arrangements.
II. PRINCIPLES UNDERPINNING SHARED GOVERNANCE
2. The new system of governance must facilitate national development, the enrichment of the nation and the involvement and security of all Guyanese by instituting appropriate provisions to address the political, economic and social concerns and aspirations of all groups.
3. All significant political groups of society must be represented in the national executive decision-making process. Proportional representation (as determined by periodic national election) should be used to fix each party's level of involvement in the national government.
4. Measures must be put in place to enable appropriate representation of special groups (e.g., women, Amerindians, youths) in the national decision-making process.
5. Predetermined structures and procedures must be enshrined in the constitution or in any multiparty agreement to facilitate decision-making by consensus and to resolve disputes in the national executive.
6. The larger the margin of victory of the winning party, the fewer should be the inhibitions to the exercise of its powers in the multi-party executive.
7. The executive and legislative decision-making processes must be designed to discourage foot-dragging and undue delays by setting decision deadlines beyond which special mechanisms would be triggered.
8. The parliamentary committee on constitution reform must keep the new political arrangement under constant review through its own research and analysis, and by encouraging and examining submissions from the public.
9. The inclusionary democracy approach should infuse all aspects of national decision-making that have to do with resource allocation (tender boards, state boards, land selection committees, etc).
10. The new government must be subject to independent, powerful and effective mechanisms of oversight and scrutiny.
11. The new system of governance must mandate the participation of the public and civic society in national decision-making.
12. The new system must expressly provide mechanisms for the economic empowerment of the disadvantaged.
13. There must be broad agreement on a national developmental programme.
III. FACILITATIVE CONDITIONS FOR SHARED GOVERNANCE IN GUYANA
14. Several conditions promote the potential for success of multiparty governance in Guyana:
* The ability of the major parties to sit and discuss rationally (the Constitutional review process),
* the presence of strong partiocracy (the situation when parties can control or manage the actions of their supporters, thereby maximising the chances that agreements struck among party leaders will be respected by most party members). This factor is advanced as one of the main reasons for the success of Belgian's power sharing government,
* the interests of international stakeholders (financial institutions) in preventing failure, " convergence of ideologies among the main parties (a point in case: both major parties have publicly endorsed free enterprise).
IV. NON-EXECUTIVE HEAD OF STATE
15. The committee recommends the establishment of a non-executive President as Head of State. The presidency will constitute a moral, symbolic and, in a few cases, statutory authority standing over and above the dynamics of party politics. The nature and extent of the statutory authority is to be agreed on.
16. Specific functions will include:
* Assenting to bills,
* Acting as Commander-in-chief of the arm forces (see para. 54),
* Acting as a mediator in unresolved political disputes (see para. 36-37),
* Appointing presidential commissions of inquiry into suspected government misconduct.
17. Appointment. The president will be appointed for a seven-year renewable term on a multi-party vote in parliament. A seven-year term ensures the presidency straddles the holding of national elections and reduces the pressure on the officeholder to pander to the parties in hopes of re-appointment.
18. Removal. During his/her term of office, the president could be removed only on specified grounds by a weighted parliamentary vote.
V. EXECUTIVE DECISION-MAKING STRUCTURES AND PROCEDURES IN THE MULTI-PARTY GOVERNMENT
19. The make-or-break point in shared-governance arrangements is the decision-making process in the multiparty executive. Based on research of coalition (power sharing) governments of several countries (New Zealand, Finland, Sweden, Netherlands, Iceland, Belgium, and Ireland), the committee considers the following ideas best suited to Guyana's conditions.
20. Adopting the practice of most coalition governments, the partners in the government must first work out and sign a Coalition Agreement. The agreement must encompass:
* a policy platform (based on the national development program and a merger of ideas from party manifestoes),
* portfolio allocation and party responsibilities, and
* the decision-making structures and procedures within the executive.
21. The agreement must be publicised, as the public then can monitor the process and assess the compliance of coalition partners with the spirit and provisions of the agreement and the constitution.
22. The primary objective of the coalition decision-making process must be to facilitate consensus and to avoid surprises (significant unannounced unilateral action) by setting up rigid mechanisms for communication, consultation and dispute resolution within the executive itself.
23. Decision-making in the governing executive will be a mixture of collective responsibility (where consensus has been reached) and single-party responsibility (where no consensus has been reached or where unilateral actions are allowed).
Council of Ministers (Cabinet)
24. The Council of Ministers will be the highest executive decision-making body. It will comprise all ministers of government, parliamentary secretaries and (probably) government advisors. The Council is the point through which all cabinet matters must be channeled for discussion and approval. These matters are:
* all policy issues,
* proposals that will affect government's financial position or commitments,
* matters concerning the machinery of government,
* decisions and actions, allowed under the statutory powers granted to Ministers, that would affect the collective interest of government,
* proposals involving new legislation or regulations,
* government responses to select committee recommendations,
* controversial matters,
* all but the most minor public appointments,
* the release of important government documents, papers and reports,
* matters affecting the interests of a number of ministries.
25. The Council will be chaired by the Prime Minister and will meet at stipulated times. A quorum will be two-thirds of the members of each of the major parties.
26. Decisions will be by consensus, failing which the matter is sent for resolution to the Standing Coalition Management Committee.
Standing Coalition Management Committee
27. The Coalition Management Committee comprises the leaders (and possibly also senior party members) of the political parties in the Council. It is therefore a forum of summiteers (similar to the current inter-party dialogue), with two important roles: overall management of the coalition arrangement and to serve as the highest forum for dispute resolution.
28. The management committee will meet as often as necessary, and could be summoned at the request of any party leader in the coalition. The Prime minister will chair meetings. To form a quorum, all the major parties must be represented.
Ministerial Working Groups
29. The main arenas for consultation, coordination and negotiation among parties will be the standing Ministerial Working Groups. These are sub-committees of the Council of Ministers, comprising, at minimum, key ministers from the coalition groups, selected MPs, civil service heads and government advisers. Mandates of sub-committees should be broad enough to facilitate coordination among related government ministries. Suggested fields include foreign affairs, economic policy, and social policy.
30. From the experience of other countries, working groups are most effective as informal decision-making forums (referred to in Finland as "government evening classes"). Their fundamental objective is to process issues so that they need only be formally dealt with at full meetings of the Council of Ministers.
31. All initiatives (whether bills, policies, etc) from the various Ministries therefore must be first sent to the relevant subcommittee, as the first point of inter-party discussion and bargaining, before being forwarded to the Council of Ministers.
32. Notwithstanding, the Council may delegate authority to a subcommittee to make final decisions.
Procedures for Unresolved Issues
33. Preparations have to be made for those occasions when internal mechanisms for achieving consensus fail. These so-called "agree to disagree" situations, hopefully, should be rare, but have to be managed to avoid destabilising the coalition.
34. The basic requirement is for unresolved issues to be in relation to different party positions, and not in relation to difference in opinions of individual Ministers. In fact, dissociation of individual Ministers from Council decisions outside the agreed coalition processes should be discouraged.
35. Unresolved issues are treated differently depending in which of the two categories they fall:
* those a coalition party identifies as inimical to race relations in the country, and
* those that are identified as issues of "party distinction".
Matters harmful to race relations
36. Any initiative put forward by a party in the coalition that any of its major partners declares to be potentially harmful to race relations can pass only on a vote of a majority of members of each party in the Council or in the parliament (in Belgium, a party can exercise a suspensive veto to temporary stop the measure). If all attempts at internal dispute resolution fail, the matter is sent to the State President for a judgement. However, he/she must first seek advice, and any guidelines for correction, from the Ethnic Relations Commission, which must hold a public hearing on the matter.
37. If the Head of State, acting in accordance with the ERC, rules that the measure is indeed harmful to race relations, the coalition partner must withdraw and amend the measure along the proposed guidelines before resubmitting it to the Ministerial working group. If the Head of State rules that the measure is not harmful to race relations, the matter could be implemented and is considered a collective decision of the Council.
Matters of "Party Distinction"
38. Unresolved matters identified by a coalition partner, other than the proposing party, as an issue that fundamentally separates the parties are sent to the parliament. There, the appropriate parliamentary sectoral committee must discuss the matter in a public session, before submitting its recommendations to the full House. Parties are allowed in speech and in vote to differentiate on the issue. The matter requires a simple majority to pass, and dissenting parties are no longer under any obligation of collective responsibility for that particular issue.
VI. ALLOCATION OF MINISTERIAL PORTFOLIOS
39. The number of portfolios each qualified party is entitled to will be determined by the election results. Parties have to garner above a minimum threshold of votes (5%) to qualify to join the governing coalition.
40. The Prime Ministership goes to the party that garnered the largest national support.
41. Distribution of portfolios will be as follows:
* The number of Ministries and their responsibilities would be fixed by Acts of Parliament.
* Stage 1: the parties attempt to decide on allocation through discussion within a specified timeframe (a week?).
* Stage 2: if no agreement is reached in the first stage, the selection process is done by an alternating pick system based on the principle of largest remainder, with the party with the largest number of votes in the polls being granted the first pick.
VII. PARLIAMENT IN THE NEW ENVIRONMENT
42. In the shared-governance constitution, the executive government will still be accountable to Parliament. However, because of the nature of the decision-making process within the executive (especially its consensus-driven relations), the dynamics of parliament inevitably will change.
43. The parliament will still be required to perform three functions:
* pass legislation and grant statutory powers,
* appropriate and empower government to use public funds, and
* srutinise and conduct inquiries into the policy, administration and expenditure of government.
44. In Guyana, the same parties that will dominate the government will also dominate the parliament. Given also the existence of strong party control over MPS (partiocracy), the parliament will likely endorse and support the joint decisions of the coalition government. This situation becomes acceptable, as these decisions would have already been processed by inter-party negotiations in the Council of Ministers and in Select Committee where MP's can make their imput. However, there should be provision for MP's (especially regional MP's) not involved in the NEC to dissent.
45. Nevertheless, the structure and functions of parliament should not in any way be weakened or diluted, as it is the only forum for citizens, interest groups, independent MPs, non-government parties and other stakeholders to influence the actions of government. Parliament is also the largest window through which the public can see into the operations of government. In view of this, the following features should supplement the recent constitutional amendments affecting parliament:
All government bills, after their first reading, must be sent to the appropriate select committee for public "hearing of evidence" sessions. Allowances are made for exceptions if:
* the House adopts a motion of the subject Minister that the bill should not go to select committee because it is uncontroversial and no individual or group has formally indicated its intention to give evidence on the bill before the select committee.
* the House adopts a motion of the subject Minister that the bill should not go to select committee because it is urgent.
* the House adopts a motion of the subject Minister that the bill should not go to select committee because prior consultations were held with all interested groups and individuals in drafting the bill, and no other individual or group has formally indicated its intention to give evidence on the bill before the select committee.
47. Parliamentary debates
Provisions should be made in the Standing Orders for periodic General Debates in parliament during which MPs could speak on any issue of their own choice.
48. Public petitions
The practice of public petitions should be reactivated in Guyana politics. Citizens should be encouraged to submit petitions to parliament on matters affecting them. Select committees would be the forum for processing these petitions and will make recommendations to the full House.
49. Unresolved coalition matters
Matters of policy, which the coalition partners are unable to resolve within the Council of Ministers, should be channeled to select committees for public hearings. The committees would then be responsible to seek expert and other opinion on the issue, before making its recommendations to parliament. As discussed above, the matter could be passed by a majority vote of the full House, but would not obligate dissenting parties to shoulder any collective responsibility in that instance.
50. Select committees
As envisaged by the recent constitutional amendments, government accountability to the parliament would be mainly actualised through the select committees. In the new environment, it becomes critical that the chairmanship of these committees be opposite to the parties holding responsibility for the corresponding ministries.
VIII. REDEFINITION OF OPPOSITION POLITICS
51. Inevitably, the multiparty government system will redefine opposition politics in Guyana. The political parties, which traditionally would be identified as the opposition, will now be partners in the governing executive. The interparty political debate and discussion, therefore, would no longer be conducted in the public domain but behind the closed doors of the Council of Ministers. The committee recognises that this is an undesirable eventuality, and have proposed steps to, one, open the government decision-making process to public and civic society participation as well as scrutiny.
IX. MECHANISMS TO INCREASE PUBLIC AND CIVIC SOCIETY INVOLVEMENT IN NATIONAL DECISION-MAKING
52. To reduce the likelihood of the emergence of executive dictatorship in the new multiparty government, the committee recommends the following ideas:
* Select committee meetings should be in the form of public hearings, bar exceptional circumstances,
* Consultation with stipulated interest groups (regional MPs, trade unions, private sector, municipalities, etc) on major government policies and measures must be mandatory.
X. MEASURES TO INCREASE GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY
53. As in any democracy, the government must be held accountable to the people. Given the fact that the traditional opposition parties will be in the coalition, the committee recommends the following special provisions to supplement those already enshrined in the constitution.
* Publication of the minutes of meetings of the full cabinet, bar sensitive issues of national security, foreign affairs and trade, " Enactment of Freedom of Information legislation,
* Granting of powers to the president to commission inquiries into government misconduct, and
* More effective and robust government oversight authorities, such as the Auditor General and the constitution commissions, and the redefinition of the scope and powers of the Ombudsman. XI. CONTROL OF THE MILITARY FORCES
54. The proposed non-executive president will be the Commander-in-Chief of the military. He/she will, however, only act on the advice of the Defence Board, which must include in its composition the leaders of the main political parties in the government.
XII. UNCHANGED PROVISIONS IN THE CONSTITUTION
55. The following constitutional provisions would remain essentially unchanged.
* Provisions for local government,
* Provisions for the establishment of all constitution commissions,
* Provisions governing individual rights and freedoms,
* Provisions for the independence of the Judiciary and the Auditor General.
56. After a period of ten years, a referendum will be held to determine whether the shared governance arrangement should be continued.
October 16, 2002