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
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
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
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.
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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.]