There has been no term more tossed about in the political sphere in recent times than ‘shared governance’, by which is more properly meant ‘shared executive governance’. It has been trumpeted as the panacea for all our constitutional ills, which will reduce if not eliminate the political cum ethnic tensions which so debilitate us and inhibit the possibility of rational government.
Judging from the way it voted in March, the electorate is not necessarily persuaded of the advantages of this arrangement; it was, after all, the small parties which for the most part were promoting the idea, and they did very poorly, a joinder of three of them securing only one seat.
Generally speaking, when shared governance has come up for discussion in the past, it has referred to the two largest political/ethnic entities in this land: the PPP/C and the PNCR in its various incarnations. As has been adverted to before, however, the demographics of Guyana are changing, and a third racial group in the form of the Indigenous peoples could potentially in the future become a political force in its own right. Furthermore, if the oil economy in due course attracts back a younger, more educated demographic, then there is the likelihood that its members will reflect more modern notions of government, rather than the ante-diluvian practices of the two fossilised blocs. In other words, for various reasons, a rigid shared governance system based on our two main parties might even be worse than what exists at present, and additionally might be difficult to reform when that becomes necessary if the participants were disinclined to co-operate.
Various writers, including to our letter columns, have pointed out that there is no trust between the PPP/C and APNU. In fact, the situation is worse now than it was two years ago, and there can be no provisions for the sharing of power if they are not underpinned by a measure of trust; for obvious reasons it simply would not work. Furthermore, the two sides do not want to share power and will no doubt go to some lengths to avoid that outcome. No one has made more obvious his autarchic predisposition and his determination to avoid collaborating with the opposition as it then was, even when that was constitutionally required, than former President David Granger. Short of a personality transformation his attitude is unlikely to change.
It is true that APNU+AFC prior to accepting the declaration of the last election result had proposed discussions about shared governance. That was just a last desperate attempt, however, to prevent the winning party from acceding to office and allowing the caretakers some form of power. Even if, for the sake of argument, it had been implemented, it would not have succeeded because in the end Mr Granger would have tried to make sure he retained control, and the compromise would have broken down.
As for the PPP/C, while they seek to promote a patina of inclusiveness by embracing those in government who do not come from within their hallowed ranks, they do not trust them. There is the new Prime Minister with nothing particular to do except have oversight of the telecommunications sector, while the state media, which is one of the responsibilities of his office, falls under the supervision of the controversial Mr Kwame McCoy. As for the newly appointed Foreign Minister, he finds himself now with a watchdog in the form of Foreign Secretary Robert Persaud. No one has explained what the duties of the latter are, so will it be a case of policy and administrative authority being in his hands, and the Minister being a decoration for public purposes? If Freedom House cannot trust its own Civic appointees, how would it ever trust opposition ones in a shared governance formula? It remains to be seen whether in the long term, as opposed to the current circumstances of the ICJ, they truly regard the border issue as a national one.
But there is something more important. The PPP/C understands very well that it needs the Indigenous vote in order to achieve power, and therefore has no intention of allowing any kind of Indigenous political party room to evolve. Mr Lenox Shuman will find that he has his work cut out for him. Apart from naming five Indigenous representatives to its parliamentary complement, the party has wasted no time in re-appointing the 200 Indigenous workers who were dismissed by the previous government on its accession. They were dismissed because their function was to perform political work for the PPP/C in their communities. Now they are back, along, one presumes, with Freedom House’s carrot and stick approach in the hinterland. The current government won’t go for shared governance because it doesn’t think it needs to, and most fundamental constitutional reforms require a two-thirds majority in the House, if not in a few instances a referendum.
The last election was fought with a certain amount of desperation because both sides thought that whoever won office could stay in power for a long stretch because of the oil money. Even although the parties were still committed to helping their own constituency first, they operated with the economic assumption that a rising tide lifts all boats. One suspects, however, that the electorate was a great deal more cynical than it was given credit for, and that the supposed oil bonanza was not in the forefront of voters’ minds when they went to mark their ballots.
The population here like that in many other jurisdictions is particularly concerned about corruption. And if the PPP/C believes that the fact the last government was unable to bring any major cases related to its officials’ misfeasance demonstrates it was clean after all, it is fooling itself. The citizenry simply doesn’t believe that it was. It is true that it has found cases of corruption perpetrated by members of the last administration, but APNU+AFC was in power for five years, while in its previous form the current government had 23 years at the helm. And voters feel that the problem will become worse when the oil industry really gets underway.
Unfortunately shared governance does not prevent corruption. As the case of Lebanon has demonstrated, it can even make it worse. There the different antagonistic groups making up the former government simply purloined from their slice of the pie. In a situation too where there would be no official opposition in the House, there would be no political entity which could ask the necessary questions and apply pressure on a range of issues, and not just corruption. In a democracy that is plainly dangerous. An autocratic shared government is no better than a single party one.
In the end, a clean society depends not on shared governance but on a number of autonomous, well-manned institutions with appropriate powers which are independent of political interference, such as the Audit Office and Procurement Commission, to cite just the two obvious ones amid a number of others. It also presupposes an effective, honest police force and an independent judiciary.
Some idealistic political minds have come up with more elaborate suggestions for shared governance partly involving US-style administrative structures, such as a cabinet which does not sit in Parliament. The presidency would be a rotating one consisting of five persons, two APNU, two PPP/C and one from the largest of the smaller parties. It would have to include a minimum of two women and two youths. This is dangerous utopianism. In the first place parachuting down a theoretical constitution on the country which is too far removed from what is familiar is bound to cause confusion and fail; and in the second, playing musical chairs with office-holders is never recommended, not least because all governments require a measure of continuity to be effective, among other things. Thirdly, it is always better to build on what is traditionally in place, making changes piecemeal, so where these don’t work or cause unanticipated problems they are not so challenging to amend.
All of which does not mean to say that we are not in urgent need of constitutional reform. We are. But there needs to be a public discussion on the kinds of changes to our constitution we would like to see now, bearing in mind that this is a complicated society which is probably in a transitional state. If there is enough public pressure the two Cyclops-like parties may be forced to accede to the proposals. It just has to be remembered that constitutional reform is not the same as shared governance.
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It is estimated that over one million Guyanese, when counting their dependents, live outside of Guyana. This exceeds the population of Guyana, which is now about 750,000. Many left early in the 50’s and 60’s while others went with the next wave in the 70’s and 80’s. The latest wave left over the last 20 years. This outflow of Guyanese, therefore, covers some three generations. This outflow still continues today, where over 80 % of U.G. graduates now leave after graduating. We hope this changes, and soon.
Guyanese, like most others, try to keep their culture and pass it on to their children and grandchildren. The problem has been that many Guyanese have not looked back, or if they did it was only fleetingly. This means that the younger generations and those who left at an early age know very little about Guyana since many have not visited the country. Also, if they do get information about Guyana, it is usually negative and thus the cycle of non-interest is cultivated.
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