Guyana Elections 2020: Letter from Joseph G Singh- Major General (retd)

Retired M.G. Joseph Singh

Letter from Joseph G Singh, Major General (retd)

I published a letter last Friday, and I do appreciate the feedback I received from many citizens and friends from here and abroad, who, like all of us, only wish the best for our beloved country Guyana, as we navigate through some perilous waters to arrive at a safe harbor.

As I indicated in that letter, I hold no Brief for any political party but am interested in working, like many others, towards achieving an outcome from the current 2020 Elections challenges,  that may not satisfy everyone but which at the very least, complies with the Rule of Law and the Guyana Constitution, and one which is respectful of basic human rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The scenes from across the coastal regions of Guyana, captured on video and displayed over the last seventy-two hours on television and social media, showed groups of citizens either celebrating or protesting, depending with which side of the political divide they are aligned.           

The sight of young men pelting bricks and bottles at ‘the other side’s’ supporters, the logs and obstacles deployed and set alight in order to block roads and other access routes, are all examples of the divisiveness in our society that seems to manifest itself after elections, and reflective of whether or not the electoral process and/or the results, are to the liking of one or other political camp. Such scenes are compelling as they are worrying, and more especially, when innocent children are in the crosshairs of acts of violence.

The leadership cadres of our political parties have a responsibility to manage the expectations of their supporters and while legitimate protest is a sine qua non of our human rights, this needs to be respectful of the sanctity of human life and of public and private property. There is little doubt that the delay and challenges encountered in bringing the 2020 National & Regional Elections process to a credible conclusion, is a major contributory factor to the build up of tensions and manifestations of aggressive behavior in certain constituencies. People must not be used as pawns or cannon fodder to be manipulated in street protests while some of their leaders are comfortable in their cloistered surroundings or pontificate on television. Leadership cadres must identify on the ground with their supporters, who have been led to believe in the causes for which they are expressing either their happiness or their disgust.

Meanwhile, the security forces have a responsibility to manage such legitimate protests in keeping with their mandate to preserve law and order and to do so with decisiveness, yet with tolerance and restraint as circumscribed by their Standard Operational Procedures. They cannot act outside of their Constitutional role and must certainly not be distracted or swayed by any other agenda or they open themselves to national and international condemnation and litigation.

In our pre-Independence history, many of our political, trade union and moral leaders were imprisoned by the colonial power for their role in mobilising, educating and motivating their supporters for causes in which they believed and for which they were engaged in peaceful protest against the colonial administration. Those protests emphasised the unity and solidarity of the Working Class against the injustices of the colonial administration and in pursuit of their basic human rights. Fifty-four years after Independence on May 26, 1966, instead of harnessing the collective diversity, skills and talents of our population, we are now fighting each other for political power, dominance and control. Whatever the outcome of the decision of GECOM and whether the elections are deemed to be credible, it will not solve the extent of mistrust, fear and concerns that stalk the land and generate disunity in our plural society.

Mature leadership reaching across the political divide must be prepared to achieve a degree of consensus in the decision-making process so that no one feels excluded because his or her party did not win the elections or is not represented in Parliament. That reaching-out process must commence NOW and be sustained by leadership, both political and civil society, committed to a process that alleviates the negative feelings, concerns and fears that pervade our society. Our children need to see in us adults, those qualities that they should aspire to emulate in later life. They should draw strength and confidence from our social, economic and cultural relationships and from our political relationships in pursuit of the well-being of all Guyanese, and act in the best interests of Guyana as a Nation and as a member State of the global community.

Yours faithfully

Joseph G Singh

Major General (retd)

Former Chief of Staff (1990-2000) of the Guyana Defence Force

Former Chairman (2000-2001) of the Guyana Elections Commission      

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Comments

  • Clyde Duncan  On March 8, 2020 at 1:54 am

    General Joe: This says it ALL ….

    “Mature leadership reaching across the political divide must be prepared to achieve a degree of consensus in the decision-making process so that no one feels excluded because his or her party did not win the elections or is not represented in Parliament.”

  • Clyde Duncan  On March 8, 2020 at 5:09 pm

    I offer the following letter which I had sent to the editor of Stabroek News after my visit to Guyana in July 2019. They published it on July 31, 2019.

    With prayers for our motherland.

    Tulsi.

    (Submitted for publication as a letter to the editor.)

    Dear Editor,

    I believe that Guyana has another chance, this time, to deliver its offshore Oil and Gas bounty for the benefit of all of the residents of Guyana.

    I am a Guyanese-born American citizen, long gone from Guyana, but my navel string was buried near the punt trench in Palmyra. And periodically I can still feel its pulse, as I pray for a better life for those still living in Guyana and whenever I visit.

    In my opinion, Guyana missed the promise that came with Independence; the promise of the elections of 1992; the promise of Bharrat Jagdeo’s youthful presidency; the promise of the Coalition government; and most of the potentialities of gold, bauxite, rice, sugar, forest, fish, falls and freshwater.

    And now, there is Oil and Gas. In abundance. There is currently a lot of oil in the world’s reserves and a short time to monetize it, because I believe, in about twenty to thirty years, fossil fuels like oil and gas will become obsolete, replaced for the most part by energy derived from wind, water, solar, tidal, hydrogen, landfill, recyclables, biomass and other alternatives less harmful to the environment.

    If Guyanese are to get the benefit of the likely, (though not guaranteed) oil bonanza, the country’s political leaders need to work together. The asymmetry in knowledge, skills, resources and confidence between the major oil companies and Guyana’s representatives will always favor the majors. Local divisions and political uncertainties will increasingly handicap Guyana’s negotiating positions, and while the folks at Exxon and other international oil corporations will invariably be among the kindest, generous and big-hearted people you are likely to meet, those characteristics will not be most manifest at the table of serious business.

    Mr Editor, is there any way that the leadership of the two major political parties can work out a plan, before the upcoming elections, to share the governance of the nation and particularly the management and stewardship of the nation’s Oil and Gas stream of income? I can already sense that some already see the triumphalism inbred in the winner takes all platforms of history. In Guyana that will leave about half the population as losers, if this mindset moves into the oil future. Money, especially big money, often bring out the worst in most people.

    I have read that both major political parties think that they will win the next elections. One will and one will not. Which and which, I do not know. Nor do I think that either of them knows for sure, bluster apart. The closeness of the elections of 2011 and 2015 should give pause to both of them.

    I believe that the people of Guyana will be better off, if the two major parties agree beforehand, to something like this: That the two parties will form a joint government; That the winning party will get the Presidency; That the second party will get the Prime Ministership and first pick on a Cabinet position; then the first party get the next two cabinet picks; and then rotating two picks at a time until all the cabinet positions are filled with the winning party having in the end, one more cabinet position than the second party; and that the various commissions and statutory bodies will reflect a similar distribution.

    I know that this will not be easy on the ego, or on the addictive highs of absolute power and privileges, or the temptations of mucho dinero, or as the preeminent dispenser of favours and rewards; and many other potential difficulties that I cannot foresee. But if all Guyanese are to have a fair chance of getting an equitable share of the benefits from the Oil and Gas industry, all I can envisage is some sort of shared governance agreement.

    For sure, there will be legal hurdles, perhaps some constitutional ones as well, but those are for the legal experts to resolve.

    Guyana, please try to get it right this time.

    Yours faithfully,

    Dr Tulsi Dyal Singh.
    Midland, Texas.

  • brandli62  On March 9, 2020 at 12:41 pm

    I could not agree more with Ms Singh’s views expressed in the letter to the editor of the Stabroek News! With the regard to the recent elections, only a full and comprehensive recount of all ballots in ALL regions, not limited to region 4, under international supervision and broadcasted (TV and online) is the only way forward. President Granger should be proactive and call for such a measure, which needs to be conducted according to the laws of the land. This is the only way to restore credibility to these elections. Ms. Singh’s vision of a government of national unity can then be implemented subsequently. A first step would be constitutional reform banning all parties that are formed along ethnic lines.

  • John DrePaul  On March 10, 2020 at 11:54 am

    …Where Is Solomon When His Presence Is So Badly Needed?

    … the dust of the recent political scramble has not settled as yet… perhaps such will never be… and I keep asking myself, “do I lack the basic understanding to a solution so simple but which seems to escape the so-called ‘rational thinkers’…?”

    … as a teenager I lived through the turbulent 60s’ acrimonious politics and social upheavals… there/where the ‘divide and rule’ seed planted by those back-stabbing ‘friendly, smiling outsiders’ spawned the never-ending vicious cycle which found and continues to find solid, fertile grounds… that still brings out the worse in us…

    … maybe adapting one of our Indigenous brothers and sisters age-old customs… where a communal pot shared civilly is digested comfortably while seated around on the ground… given the recent political and anti-social debacles such might not be a bad idea seeing that the ‘civilized’ knives, forks, spoons, and other such epicurean aids, are not really doing right by/to us…

    … as a last resort, if all else fails, A SOLOMONIC SOLUTION PERHAPS MAY SUFFICE SANS ANARCHY, UNNECESSARY BLOODSHED, LOST OF PROPERTY, LIMB AND LIFE…

    … I wish everyone a most peaceful, loving, accommodating and unifying years ahead… let us become the best example we can be for our neighbours and, by extension, the wider world… nuff nuff luv & blessings to all…!!
    “What Are We Fighting For”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RG4DBMlxmhs
    Image may contain: one or more people, possible text that says ‘Wisdom of Solomon’

  • Clyde Duncan  On March 10, 2020 at 4:46 pm

    WHOEVER WINS THIS ELECTION – ALL OF GUYANA LOSES:

    A CALL FOR A GOVERNMENT OF NATIONAL UNITY

    By Moses Bhagwan and Eusi Kwayana

    WE WRITE AS TWO GUYANESE WHO HAVE COME OUT OF THE LEADERSHIP OF BOTH MAJOR PARTIES, who have lived through the violence of the 1960s, and who have been following with deep sadness and alarm the news of the outbreak of conflict following a mainly peaceful electoral campaign and voting process in our beloved country.

    People’s lives have been disrupted recently, and a sense of fear and mistrust is rapidly taking over our communities. History teaches us that mistrust can lead to violence, if it is not nipped in the bud.

    As we have already witnessed, it is the most vulnerable among us who will suffer the most. Irresponsible leadership very rarely gets affected by the disputes they consciously sow. A very dangerous situation is fast approaching.

    We add our voice to statements of concern already made, and ask political leaders to come together and issue a joint statement to all of their supporters and all Guyanese, calling for peace and for an end to violence or the threat of violence and intimidation.

    Further, we call on the two major political leaders and parties to put the interest of Guyana on the table, to surrender their narrow goals, AND TO USE THE DIVISION OF SPOILS AS THE BASIS OF AN IMMEDIATE AGREEMENT OF A JOINT GOVERNMENT, based on the verified results of the 2020 elections.

    We underline the need for everyone involved in the elections machinery to fully abide by the spirit and direction of the Representation of The People’s Act.

    It is fortunate that the international observers are present. This makes it possible for them to evaluate any claims of evidence of illegality in the elections process and to bring these to light. ILLEGALITIES IN ELECTIONS MUST BE CONDEMNED BY UMPIRES.

    At the same time, we also condemn all attempts by participants who speak about the rule of law, while they engage in disruptive tactics to enforce their will. All these actions, as well as alleged misconduct by authorized officials, contribute to divisions and chaos in the society.

    In such a deeply divided nation, it remains possible for the leaders of the major parties to de-escalate the situation by finding a mutually agreeable solution.

    This can be done irrespective of the outcome in the courts, irrespective of the final declaration of results by GECOM, irrespective of local, regional and international observers finally signing off on a credible election result. If nothing else, the events of the past week have underlined forcefully that regardless of who wins under this current winner take all system, Guyana as a whole loses.

    A SEAT ONE WAY OR THE OTHER, A MARGIN OF VICTORY ONE WAY OR THE OTHER, WILL NOT SOLVE THIS DILEMMA. WE SIMPLY CANNOT CONTINUE TO KICK THE CAN DOWN THE ROAD FOR YET ANOTHER FIVE YEARS.

    Postponing the problem will not make it disappear. We cannot continue to accept the reluctance of the two main political parties that have brought us to this point, a reluctance that so far seems totally oblivious to the consequences that have played out in such predictable and devastating ways this past week.

    The security of the supporters of one major party cannot be premised on the insecurity of the supporters of the other. It is a system that guarantees that most Guyanese, starting with those most vulnerable among us, will always be shut out.

    UNTIL THE SYSTEM CHANGES, WHOEVER WINS, GUYANA LOSES.

    To the leaders of APNU-AFC and the PPP, we ask you to hold your heads high and operate with integrity and humility. We ask that you find the grace to enter without delay into talks to establish a national government based on the principle of PARITY. Such negotiations would necessarily have to be consistent with the constitution, but it is entirely possible to envision a situation, for example, in which the winner of the 2020 elections takes the presidency but asks their prime ministerial candidate to resign so that someone from the other major party can be appointed; and where a collective cabinet can be appointed.

    Such a compromise would also give greater latitude to MP’s to vote against the government instead of following the herd, offering greater opportunities for accountability against corruption.

    This breathing space can be an opportunity to take a collective breath, and more importantly provide an opportunity for our political leaders to work together on common issues. We do not anticipate that this will be easy. We call for it because it is precisely under such conditions of extreme political polarisation and mistrust that the hard but urgent and necessary work of healing for nation building is called for.

    We do not claim originality in our proposal. The national spirit was evident in the political approach by leaders of both the PNC and PPP in the 1960s, in the face of a threat of lasting ethnic divisions.

    Following the breakdown of constitutional talks in London in the early 1960s, the leader of the PNC responded to the suggestion proposed by the United Nations anti-colonial committee for a PPP-PNC coalition to resolve the conflict, indicating that he would only agree on the condition of PARITY.

    It was a position that was not initially favoured by the PPP but members would later agree, with no less than the leader of the PPP becoming one of the foremost advocates of this position.

    This window of opportunity did not materialise, and over fifty years later we continue to experience the effects of that failure. No less of a visionary approach is demanded in the current situation, so much more dangerous and threatening to our beloved Guyana.

  • wally n  On March 10, 2020 at 6:44 pm

    Agree, might be the time for all Guyanese to get DIRECTLY involved, stop waiting to be led further, or else, Oil companies get their full cut off the top, then lawyers and outside experts, Ministers of Government, Civil Servants,ancillary suppliers (Trinidadians) and finally crumbs to Guyanese. Oil Companies operate better (for them )when the population is at war with each other.

  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On March 11, 2020 at 11:18 am

    What Messrs Bhagwandin and Kwayana neglect to tell us is that Dr Jagan called for a national gov’t with Br Bunham/PNC much earlier. They say:

    “Following the breakdown of constitutional talks in London in the early 1960s, the leader of the PNC responded to the suggestion proposed by the United Nations anti-colonial committee for a PPP-PNC coalition to resolve the conflict, indicating that he would only agree on the condition of PARITY.

    It was a position that was not initially favoured by the PPP but members would later agree, with no less than the leader of the PPP becoming one of the foremost advocates of this position. ”

    What happened just minutes before a coalition talks began. (I worked at Treasury in Public BLgs across fro Dr Jagan’s office) were two explosions.

    One: at the PPP HQ on Robb St Opp the Metropole cinema killing PPP/PYO member, Michael Forde, as he was running out of the HQ to dispose of a suspicious pakage, which blew up killing him instantly.

    Minutes later, another bomb exploded at the PPP trading arm Gimpex, about 150 yards away on Regent St.

    Mr Burham and the PNC had no interest in a coalition of of Africans anfd Indians. We all know now about the CIA/British actions to remove Jagan and instal Burnham.

    So, Mr Kwayana and Bhagwandin (menbers of WPA which support APNU) are not giving us the full story.
    …………………………..

    Now Here is my proposal for an equitable gov’t

    Proposed Framework for Political & Ethnic Balance in Guyana

    This framework is intended as a catalyst for discussion in order to bring equity into Guyana’s political life and avoid looming political and ethnic strife.

    • The Electoral System (ES) should recognize both Political & Ethnic representations.
    • Split the ES into two parts: (1) The Political – using either the current PR or the First-Past-The-Pole system; and (2) The Ethnic – A System which recognizes ethnicity.
    • The two parts could be weighted 50-50, 60-40 or any other agreed division.
    • The President/Prime Minister should be elected via Part (1).
    • Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) should be chosen from both parts. The proportion of members of each part should be based on the weighting given to each. For example, if 50-50 is agreed then 50% of MLAs will be chosen from each part.
    • Chosen ministers (and heads of major Agencies, Boards and Corporations (ABCs)) should follow the same weighting.
    • At least four (4) major ethnic groups should be recognized: Amerindians, Africans, (East) Indians and Mixed.
    • The weight of each ethnic group in chosen MLAs and Ministers should be population-based.

    Veda Nath Mohabir
    March 11, 2020

    • Yvonne Sam  On March 12, 2020 at 12:39 am

      Are you Mr. Mohabir who worked in the Final Accts Section of the Ministry of Finance in the 60’s with Mr. Driffield, Mr. Farnum, Mr. Sills and Wilbur Wright?.

  • brandli62  On March 11, 2020 at 11:35 am

    I completely reject any changes of the electoral system in Guyana to ensure fix ethnic representation. If Guyana goes down the road, it will end of in Bosnia-type stale mate, where positions and government jobs are distributed along ethnic lines. There will be no place for people of mixed race and it will make marriage across ethnic groups more difficult or impossible. Just look at my situation. I am of mixed race with Guyanese, Swiss, African, Portuguese, Dutch, and Jewish roots. My wife is Vietnamese-American. Where do my two daughters fit in? I know many fellow Guyanese with similar diverse backgrounds.

    Guyana has to move forward by rejecting race-centric politics and the focus should be to make the country work for all people respective of their ethnic roots. We are in the 21st century and the politics of the 20th century should be something of the past.

  • wally n  On March 11, 2020 at 1:33 pm

    Other countries have done it before, where the population hit the streets and force the politicians to take notice. It is more dangerous, today, for Guyana to fail, when it is about to take it’s place as a leader in the West Indies, and a force in South America.
    So hard to understand the depth of race/politics being so strong, always hoped, thought, the people had evolved.

  • brandli62  On March 11, 2020 at 1:47 pm

    Once people marry across all communities, then race will end being a factor in politics. Typically, conservatives prevent young people from marrying outside of their ethnic or religious group. Most successful nations in the 21th century are open societies that are multiracial, have the separation of state and religion and do not discriminate on the basis of race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation.

  • wally n  On March 11, 2020 at 2:31 pm

    I was thinking nowish, diversity is a cure that only works in small doses. Canada was on the right track, until that weasel trudeau tipped the scales, unleashing hatred., by placing one group above all the others.
    As my friend Denzel said, it is the culture, usually.
    BTW only my opinion, I have no answers, none.

  • Ramesh  On March 12, 2020 at 5:51 am

    Region Four is the trouble spot. The most practical solution is for there to be a re-vote supervised by an impartial, international panel of observers. Let democracy speak. Let the election be fair and honest.

    Ramesh

  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On March 12, 2020 at 8:16 am

    Yes, Ms Sam. I am same Mohabir.
    Did you leave to do Nursing?
    Are you the same columnist whose articles appear here?
    VNM

    • Yvonne Sam  On March 12, 2020 at 10:35 pm

      Greetings! Yes. it is I and me. LOL I left for England. I was the youngest one working in the vault at the Ministry of Finance, and among the firsts to be trained on the IBM 24-26 card punch. .

  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On March 12, 2020 at 11:04 pm

    Well, Greetings to you too, Ms. Sam. Cyril (Bryan) used to come to the said vault just prior to your time, to reconcile Queen College accounts; and I believe before the IBM data processing system was introduced. Small world.
    VNM

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