Guyana Politics: Shared Governance – Stabroek News Editorial

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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Comments

  • kamtanblog  On August 25, 2020 at 5:39 am

    Simple Simon says
    It’s co-operation not collaboration that is required.
    For all parties “trust” once removed is almost impossible to re-instate.
    In all relationships trust is as neccessary
    as belief itself. A United guyana is not an impossible dream.
    A United guyana is the only way forward.

    United we stand
    Decided we fail.

    Forever the optimist

    Kamtan

  • brandli62  On August 25, 2020 at 7:25 am

    As pointed out in the editorial published in Stabroek News, the PPP has been forward looking and is now actively courting the Indigenous vote in order to compensate for demographic changes in the Indo-Guyanese population. If the opposition fails to incorporate the Indigenous population, they will remain out of power for years to come.

    Regarding the question of power sharing, I would recommend editorial board of Stabroek News to have a look at the constitution of Switzerland and its system of government. Ultimate power remains with the Swiss people as any law passed by parliament can by challenge by a public vote. The system forces the parties in power to laws that meet a broad consensus. If not, they run risk of having the law overturned by a referendum. Food for thought!

    • kamtanblog  On August 25, 2020 at 8:10 am

      Agree that power must remain with the
      people especially in local government.
      Yes Swiss system is designed for local governing….cantons. Not sure if it’s also
      “compulsory“ voting…but am an advocate
      of CV with fines used for funding elections.

      OZ an example of CV democracy in principle/practice

      • brandli62  On August 25, 2020 at 9:40 am

        The Swiss system of governance and direct democracy is not limited to local/cantonal government applies also to the national level. On September 27, a whole list of different issues will be decided on the national level. If you want to learn more go to: https://www.admin.ch/gov/en/start/documentation/votes/20200927/limitation-initiative.html

        Voting is not compulsory in Switzerland and voter participation is between 30-60%.

        By contrast, voting seems to be compulsory in Guyana as the valid votes cast in the 2020 General Elections suggest a voter participation of 97%….. 😉

      • Kman  On August 25, 2020 at 4:48 pm

        So if one desires a shared governance, then there is no need for voting. But who would the government be accountable to. Not saying that any Guyanese government, past or present, including the British, were accountable to anyone.

  • brandli62  On August 26, 2020 at 3:35 am

    Kman, I am not advocating shared governance, but governance that addresses the needs of all ethnic and socioeconomic groups in Guyana. I believe that this can be achieved by introducing the instrument of a public referendum for all laws passed by parliament. This is practiced in Switzerland for 150 years and has led to more inclusive governance in a country that has four official languages and is composed of 26 cantons. Here is how it works. Each law passed by parliament can be challenged by the citizens. If you oppose a law, you will have to collect 50’000 signatures from eligible voters (i.e. about 1% of the voting population) to qualify for a nation-wide vote on the new law. This mechanism ensures that parliament (independent who is in power) passes laws that represent the interest of the majority of the people. If they don’t, they risk that the law will be repealed by a public vote. In summary, I believe that Guyana should serious consider adopting elements of Swiss direct democracy, while preserving its present parliamentary system.

    • kamtanblog  On August 26, 2020 at 5:05 am

      Interesting suggestion but reads “bureaucracy”
      to me. Dictatorship the alternative !
      Parliamentary democracy works for most
      as tried and tested system of governing.
      Google compulsory voting for countries
      that operate this system…
      For a 90% turn out without CV is farcical !
      Corruption ?
      Simple Simon says
      1. No written constitution
      2. Issues debated by MP who are allowed
      “Free vote”..written into law. No ifs or buts.
      3. Courts interpret with poo poo enforcing.

      Emphasis in first sitting of parliament discussing//debating/deciding on new
      anti corruption laws. Enforcement
      and enforceable at all levels of society/culture.

      Political reformation ASAP

      Kamtan
      “Anti corruption”

      • brandli62  On August 26, 2020 at 5:33 am

        Why do you think direct democracy reads as bureaucracy? Switzerland has a very lean bureaucracy compared to many other liberal democracies. I am also not postulating that Guyana should discard its parliamentary democracy, which has a long tradition in the country. I am asking for amendments that strengthen people’s right and force the ruling parties to pass laws on the basis of consensus of what will stand a challenge in public vote. The system in Switzerland has brought stability to the country ever since its implementation in 1848 after a brief civil war.

      • kamtanblog  On August 26, 2020 at 7:12 am

        Some good points ….
        May have a Switzerland bias….
        Not unlike UK they are “money launderers”
        of the planet. Their banking system is as corrupt
        as it gets!
        a safe haven for “guns/drugs” monies.
        Most despots/dictators hide their ill accumulated wealth in Swiss banks.
        LFSB one of their many customers post WW2

        Why even Hitler and his nazis used their
        banks to laundry monies.

        Maybe their political advocates should address
        these issues.
        And not “if u can’t beat them join them”
        comment please.!

        Can go on forever on subject hence my suggestion that Guyana turns a new page in its
        history making.

        Kamtan

  • brandli62  On August 26, 2020 at 8:01 am

    Kamtan, your are entertaining stories from the past! WW2 ended 75 years ao! Money laundering and tax evasion has in recent years been massively curbed in Switzerland in accordance with OECD regulations and US FACTA rules. By contrast, the UK still uses the Channel Islands, where trusts are used to conceal ownerships, to hide money and evade taxes. The same is true for the US, the world’s largest tax haven, with its letter box companies in Delaware and Nevada.

    Regarding Swiss (Semi-)Direct Democracy, check out this link:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Direct_democracy#Switzerland

    Here some key points from that Wikipedia report:

    The Swiss Confederation is a semi-direct democracy, i.e. a representative democracy with strong instruments of direct democracy. That’s exactly what Guyana should consider.

    Switzerland is a rare example of a country with instruments of direct democracy (at the levels of the municipalities, cantons, and federal state). Citizens have more power than in a representative democracy. On any political level citizens can propose changes to the constitution (popular initiative), or ask for an optional referendum to be held on any law voted by the federal, cantonal parliament and/or municipal legislative body.

    Swiss citizens vote regularly on any kind of issue on every political level, such as financial approvals of a school house or the building of a new street, or the change of the policy regarding sexual work, or on constitutional changes, or on the foreign policy of Switzerland, four times a year.

    This “legitimacy-rich” approach to national citizen lawmaking has been very successful. ….Switzerland has had tandem successes both socially and economically which are matched by only a few other nations.

    “Too often, observers deem Switzerland an oddity among political systems. It is more appropriate to regard it as a pioneer.”

    The Swiss political system, including its direct democratic devices in a multi-level governance context, becomes increasingly interesting for scholars of European Union integration.

    The major problem with adopting elements of semi-direct democracy in Guyana or other countries is that the parties in power do not want to ceed power to the people, which they doom unpredictable….

    • kamtanblog  On August 26, 2020 at 8:11 am

      Agree to disagree !
      So Guyana remains a “failed state” !

      Status quo politricks !

  • brandli62  On August 26, 2020 at 8:30 am

    You are doomed for eternity, if you give up hope for change and the better.

    And keep in mind my late Guyanese grandfather’s wise words: What man has done, man can do!

    Reforming Guyana’s system of government is not rocket science, but it requires the willingness of all stakeholders. And the constructive input of Guyanese abroad can be helpful.

    • kamtanblog  On August 26, 2020 at 9:50 am

      “requires the willingness of all stakeholders”
      Pipe dream my friend…
      Power corrupts
      “Ultimate power corrupts ultimately”

      Dream on …it’s free but only if dreams are realistic …
      QED

  • brandli62  On August 26, 2020 at 10:21 am

    Beati pauperes spiritu… 😉

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