Special Feature by Dr. Festus L. Brotherson, Jr.

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Guyana Elections Aftermath: Priorities in Making and Advancing Policies

Posted September 8th. 2006


In the immediate afterglow of the successful general elections in Guyana, several issues compete for immediate attention, policy making and execution. Ironies abound. For example, the issues are intertwined, but a compelling case can be made for each one being a separate priority. And while the urgency for action on all of them is intense, by dint of scarce resources attention might only be possible for each, one at a time, even though such an approach can exact prohibitive costs on the neglected ones and, possibly, on the entire Guyanese socio-economic system.

Additionally, given the mercurial nature of politics in the underdeveloped world, there is no certainty of successful results from endeavors even if these issues are pursued with exemplary conduct and purposive good intent, or given inspired impetus by that always hungry corruption beast ever present in human nature, and that is the hubris of any pursuit of good government.

In this labyrinthine environment, a performance imperative unrelentingly exerts pressure on leadership to provide beneficial results, upping people's expectations of significant amelioration of their ills in both immediate and long-term settings. So what are the "intertwined issues" which compete for prioritized attention? They include: providing for every citizen freedom from fear in a safe environment, which is the first and foremost responsibility of government; pursuing the goal of national unity through measures that, in the context of Guyana, must also involve a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC); and finally, for our purposes, state functioning that emphasizes consultation and cooperation in development of policies by means of constitutionally approved mechanisms for alliances between and among the ruling and other political entities for the passage of legislation.

To summarize, the intertwined issues for immediate focus are: providing a safe and fear free environment; a TRC that serves as a balm to massage and nourish democratic tenets in service of national unity; and governmental work ethic where behavior stresses cooperative outreaches on policy development and implementation. Some amplification is required

Safe, fear-free environment: the esoteric significance of this is its relation to a complementary individual and national psyche for system preservation and flourishing. It fosters, it nourishes political efficacy wherein the majority of citizens showcase a sense of belonging, an axiomatic rationale for patriotism, and a passionate willingness to defend the state and society by basic Aristotelian principles regarding collective and individual citizen responsibility, and by force of arms if required -- and even if as ruthlessly as outlined by Thomas Hobbes.

But the immediate pragmatic essentiality of such an environment remains its necessity for combating and controlling crime. The ability to fight crime in Guyana is woefully inadequate and criminal gangs - in particular those involved in the drug trade -- operate with impunity. The situation has deepened racial tensions and the country is in danger of becoming a collapsed state with all the attendant problems that such a calamity brings; especially the inability to govern itself. A safe environment is, too, a critically suitable context for the bursting forth and buttressing of entrepreneurial skills against a bulwarked backdrop of fairness and respect for authority relationships that provide the safety and freedom from fear. In the relaxed environment, emphasis becomes rooted in training, rules, habits and traditions that strengthen safety and the freedom that comes in its wake.

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC): surprisingly, the now once more victorious PPP/C government, just one week prior to its fourth consecutive electoral win, ruled out in brusque, cavalier manner the establishment of such a body. Its topmost executives scolded too dismissively that the time for setting up such was 1992 when democratic government was reestablished in Guyana with the return to power of Dr. Cheddi Jagan.

Indeed, in an exclusive pre-election victory interview back then, Dr. Jagan had told this writer of his intention not to set up any TRC, should he win the plebiscite. He strongly believed that ignoring the painful past of authoritarian excesses was the best way to move Guyana forward politically towards stability and national unity.

Such thinking has since proven to be a mistake given the persistency of poverty, the enduring fact and spread of accusations of racism, and only marginal useful progress of the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) which addresses racial issues; but with not nearly enough penetrative power and binding findings.

Maintenance of this position would be myopic. It does not take into consideration the views of many opinion, political, religious and other leaders, as well as a wide cross-section of ordinary citizens who have been impressed with the work of TRCs in South Africa and, closer to home, Grenada. Many reasons have been advanced by this writer and others about the incalculable benefits of a TRC and it being a sine qua non for sustainable development achievements in Guyana. END (To Be Continued).


Recap of Part 1

In the currently calm post elections period in Guyana, several issues compete for prioritized attention. Three of them warrant immediate brainstorming:

* Providing a safe and fear-free environment for all citizens;

* A Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to rekindle sustainable national unity;

* A work ethic by officialdom where behavior stresses outreaches to opposition and supportive constituencies for effective policymaking.

Although the three issues are intertwined and given fillip by an unrelenting performance imperative that demands beneficial outcomes from political leadership, they might have to be tackled separately because of other constraints. Regardless, favorable results are not guaranteed because of Third World environmental constants and the nature of complexities (including racial concerns) in the challenges of goal pursuits. 'Providing freedom from fear' was amplified. We thus begin Part II with completing our focus on a TLC and a cooperative work ethic promoted by officialdom.

Start of Part II

Given already limited resources, manageability demands of projects, the need for effective socialization to deepen democratic values, e.g., racial tolerance, and achieving wider sustainable benefits from the search for elusive development, the three issues have significant capability to help heal the sick Guyana body politic and reverse its decline. Herein, again, lies the essentiality of a TRC.

Guyana cannot achieve national cohesion unless the failings, fears, excesses of the past, including some of the last fourteen years, are examined. It is during the last forty-two years (and not just twenty-eight) that well-intentioned but sometimes misguided and corrupt officials sought sweeping change and made major missteps. During these decades, the glue that binds leaders to followers and followers to an acceptable national ideology, which rallies rather than divides, has remained ineffective. It has failed to stick.

One reason is that Guyana still has too many sharply competing political ideologies despite turmoil experienced by traumas of fundamental change and reversals of them, such as from capitalism to socialism and back. This remains a huge barrier to understanding the scope of challenges, and prioritizing and overcoming them towards that most difficult of accomplishments -- diminished corruption levels while sustainable social change is introduced in a nationwide mindset wherein efficacy has been restored, and stability reigns unchallenged. Obviously, an honestly functioning TRC that vivisects problems and examines their roots towards solutions is powerfully complementary in paving the way helpfully.

Again, it is a buoyant TRC, in the context of orderliness expected in a safe environment (in part because of extended immunities to wrongdoers), and absent too much acrimony, that will enrich spirited national conversations intended to treat painful wounds on that wide spectrum of maladies in the political environment. The wounds extend beyond violence and the threat of it, e.g., apathy, diffidence, and are just as important for building and keeping trust among citizens. It is the latter's trust - which, as the key component of political legitimacy, is so vital for the third issue, which I earlier encapsulated as innovative, exemplary special governmental behavior.

Governmental functioning emphasizing consultation and cooperation in policy explorations, choices and execution: armed with clear-cut political legitimacy conferred by electoral victory, the administration should outline a protocol for brainstorming policy pursuits. Magnanimously, it would stress governance by use of constitutionally approved mechanisms for alliances among ruling and other political entities for passage of legislation in service of responsive, responsible democratic government.

The moment for such behavior is opportune but requires ending mushrooming arrogance in certain quarters. For example, there is the constant claim that the PPP/C gained a landslide victory! Fifty-four percent is not a landslide and the boast ridicules significant blocs of non-supporters. There are also off-the-cuff dismissals of the fact that voting in 2006 dramatized more racial cleavages in the PPP/C camp than those in the PNCR-1G and other parties.

Annoyance among opposition forces is growing in what seems to be government's misinterpretation of calmness. The Working People's Alliance (WPA), which did not contest the elections, reminded recently that absence of political unrest does not necessarily mean the presence of peace. Thomas Hobbes said so centuries ago in his weather analogy: "For as the nature of foul weather lieth not in a shower or two of rain; but in an inclination thereto of many days together; so the nature of war, consisteth not in actual fighting; but in the known disposition thereto, during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary."

At this time, one dominant matter that provides such an opportunity for President Jagdeo's new government to demonstrate this new behavior, which he in fact has promised, is the growing constitutional crisis on the convening of Parliament. Stay tuned.


Dr. Brotherson is a Guyanese professor of political science and corporate risk-assessment consultant who resides in the USA.