A Decade of PPP/C Rule
by Khemraj Ramjattan

Guyana is wracked in a national security crisis on this the 10th anniversary of the restoration of democracy (observed last Saturday). Ten years ago the air was filled with a refreshing ambience of change, freedom, choice, hope, optimism. The curfew of PNC authoritarianism was lifted and hundreds of thousands rejoiced and celebrated. Sad to say today a curfew of a different sort and not altogether dissociated from certain political elements is closing in, crippling this beloved country in a manner similar to that of the early 60s. What has gone wrong? Are we such a star-crossed nation, destined to doom?

I have tried hard to disconnect from my political bias and prejudices - a rather impossible thing to do totally - and to give an appraisal of what the picture is of Guyana since 1992. This snapshot image is not a beautiful sight, especially since Cde. Cheddi's death. A constant rolling into one problem and rolling out into another seems to be what is revealed in this picture, with the worst being the national insecurity crisis of today. Our freedoms are circumscribed by criminals who are involved in activities of the most bewildering kind. I, who through my criminal law practice should not be squeamish, have become numbed by the sheer madness of it all. What is aggravating about this development is, firstly, the wholly untenable situation of not knowing from where it is coming. There appears to be no cause behind these criminal activities; just wanton inhuman brutality. A second aggravating feature is the haplessness of the relevant State authorities in coming to grips with the situation. This is so depressing. We seem rudderless, sailing along in this ocean of crime.

The predominance of this public safety crisis has subsumed every other issue to second fiddle. When I speak to my colleagues and comrades these days, an anger against my Government that is quite visceral is explicitly revealed. My attempts to attenuate by arguing that since 1992 much has been done, is glossed over, if not shouted down. But I plough on to tell how expression and speech in all forms have been freed up, how most if not every institution of Government is open to scrutiny, how the housing and infrastructure landscape of our country has monumentally been transformed for the better, how a whopping foreign debt has been brought down by almost half, how massive expenditures on schools, hospitals, potable-water systems have seen dramatic improvements in these services, how the lot of public servants has been ameliorated as against what previously were their dire condition, how there have been major democratisation measures and improved inclusiveness at the Parliamentary level which can only become functional by the return of the PNC to Parliament, how a hundred other things, major and minor, have been done.

But alas the response is always: "Praks you talking a lot of r--! What is the use of all of that when there is the probability you or I could be murdered, robbed or kidnapped eh?" And to this I really have no response except - "Yeah boy, something got to be done."

I have earlier opined that this new wave of criminality may have proximate and indirect connections with certain political elements, but I must confess that the primary reason for a worsening of the situation is a demoralised, disorganised and dented Police Force. Had there been public confidence, competence and professionalism infused into this institution this would not have been the ugly scenario. This decline, this destruction, did not occur overnight; it was the result of a long string of unhappy and wrong policies and internal re-arrangements conducted by the Lewis stewardship of the Police Force. I had forewarned about this catastrophe as an outcome of such leadership some years ago, and was chastised for it. Somehow it was never realised that like a poisonous virus, crime and criminality will rush to affect every sphere of a society unless there is in place an antidote - a professional, independent and properly led Police Force. The potency of this antidote was neutralised by the aforesaid stewardship.But the point now is what is to be done. There is no finality of insight or certainty of success about any proposal. But it is my view that an admixture of genuine and sincere political consensus on a solution to this issue by Government and the Opposition, an immediate forensic audit of the Police Force especially directed to its needs in training, personnel and leadership by either Scotland Yard or Interpol, an education of civil society as to its obligation and responsibility as to why it must, and how it can, co-operate with the Police Force - something which requires a huge amount of courage these days, and a tough zero-tolerance attitude towards reasonably suspected safe-havens wherever situate, will go a far way towards finding a solution.

This search for consensus especially between the major players - Government and Opposition - must not be stymied by arrogant and insensitive word wars. Our lives and safety are far more important than the egos of a few politicians on both sides of the divide.

This brings me to the question: What are the lessons to be learnt from the past 10 years? I suppose that the lessons will be varied and different depending on the perspective or ideological orientation taken. But there are some "truths" which transcend everything else, whatever the perspective or ideological orientation taken./Firstly, democracy is more than winning elections. October 5th 1992 signified the rediscovery of the one man, one vote principle that is the primary pillar upon which democracy stands. One man one vote is the world's and history's best known mechanism through which we either keep in or kick out the incumbent government. It is government by majority rule, which is the democratic principle which forms the bedrock of our constitutional system, and which constitutes the central feature of the structure of Government under our Constitution. Until changed, we must abide and adhere to it.

However, as events and realities have revealed, happiness will not be heralded simply because of the return of this practice of one man, one vote majority rule. Good and sound government, and dutiful and active citizenship do not automatically flow from it, and what this means is that a healthy democracy rests on other pillars also. One such is a reciprocating respect by the people, inclusive of the Opposition, towards its Government, and of the Government towards all its citizenry inclusive of all Opposition be they political, social or merely interest groups. Ethnic minorities, religious groupings, social organisations, however eccentric they seem to the Government, must all be shown respect. It is my opinion that this reciprocating respect, when it matters most, has been unnervingly difficult to discern within recent times. Casting blame on the "offenders" on both sides of the divide will not be a useful exercise.

Further, if Government can be more reasoned and reasoning as regards the decisions it makes concerning the individuals who are affected, then there can be an enlargement of respect by these individuals towards their Government. Rationally and honestly explaining to an individual why a certain contract was awarded to one firm as against another, or why a house lot cannot be allocated, or concession cannot be granted, or firearm licence cannot be issued, or investment incentive cannot be forthcoming or why each of these will require a longer period to be positively responded to, helps massively to put people at ease. People feel valued when they receive a correspondence of this nature from officialdom; and an officialdom which communicates in this manner educates the people they are paid to serve. I need not say more as to how mutual respect will be gained by this process.

Another such pillar is a conscious effort on Government's part to realise that a people's exercise of their right to vote, invaluable as it is, is only an infrequent, minuscule and fragile mode of participation in Government. This pillar has at its core the enabling of participation in the making and taking of decisions during the tenure of Government by the citizens themselves, rather than Government arrogating exclusively unto itself, every decision. Complex issues are never dealt with at an elections campaign; sometimes major issues which arise during a Government's tenure are not even dealt with at the campaign or in a manifesto. Hence, people must be granted that opportunity to express their views. This fortifies social cohesion and harmony; but more than this, by allowing this participation there is an indulgence of more of the talents of more of our people more of the time which makes for better governance. This is true enfranchisement of a people.

Of course, this kind of participation necessarily means giving them access to the information and decisions that concern them; and a communication line so that their voices will not be in the wilderness, but be heard in places where it matters.
Secondly, democracy must constantly be expanded and diffused into regions and spheres hitherto taken for granted or found unacceptable. Very many institutions of State, very many organisations do not exhibit genuine and sincere practices of democracy.

As a Parliamentarian I can emphatically assert that Parliamentary institutions are not inherently democratic. Without constant questioning, it can be an institution of oligarchy rather than democracy. It is for this reason that major constitutional amendments were promulgated to have Parliamentary Commissions and Committees established so that the ordinary citizens can have an opportunity to voice their concerns and opinions on various issues. Being a taxpayer and a voter, the opinion of the citizen is vital to an open democracy and when this opinion is possible in Parliament, it's all the more vital. After all, it is by bringing government close to the people that people will be brought close to government.

The functioning of this new inclusiveness now depends on when the major Opposition Party will return to Parliament. And this is the third lesson to be drawn - there must be a responsible Opposition for our nation/state to progress. There have been too many times during the last decade when utterances and conduct by the Opposition have cost this country dearly. Violence and demonstrations sparked by the Opposition immediately after the 1992, 1997 and 2001 Elections, elections which have all later proven to reflect the people's will, were irresponsible. Utterances such as 'making the country ungovernable' and others of similar ilk also were irresponsible. But there is another aspect to this irresponsibility, and it is that an Opposition must not omit to say things in a timely and unequivocal manner when such things have to be said in the national interest. An example of this omission is that which the Opposition has not said, timely and unequivocally, concerning the present crime situation.

Fourthly, our country's leadership within Government, Opposition and civil society must understand that the battle for space will forever continue between the leaders and the led. And this will remain so notwithstanding the fact that these leaders within Government, within the Opposition and within civil society have been democratically elected. The fight for space must be seen as something totally natural and human, and must not be stultified at its emergence as a challenge to the status quo, and branded reactionary. Challenges, which are legitimate and intellectual, are what Guyana needs most. The debate must start and continue. We will all be better for it. This space must be created and given. So frontiers have to be relocated, boundaries changed. For too long, only a few leaders within the major spheres of our society have created this space; most usurp all, and interfere where they should not. As Rex Nettleford in his classic "Inward Stretch, Outward Reach" puts it, the reason for this is that "the oligarchic few would wish to freeze their current occupation of political and economic space into timeless legitimacy."

For the sake of this beloved country and its loving people, our "oligarchic few" must allow a thaw at this the beginning of this second decade after 1992. The alternative, it appears, is a deep freeze.

[Editor' Note: Khemraj Ramjattan is an attorney-at-law and PPP/C MP. He is also one of the principal PPP "insiders" who tried to get the PPP to adopt democratic reform within itself in August (PPP 27th Congress), but was accused of wanting power via the "back door" by President Jagdeo.]

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Sept 20, 2002
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