by Ravi Dev

The PPP likes to boast that they brought back democracy to Guyana in 1992.  A lot of Guyanese however, are beginning to question as to what exactly is the content of that 'democracy". It should have been obvious by now that we have to be very wary when politicians use certain words. Like Humptey Dumptey - they use words to mean whatever they want them to mean. And they like to use words that we feel good about - like "democracy". After all, we believe that democracy is a good thing - a state where all of us have equal rights and where all of us can be assured that our opinions will be taken into account when decisions are made that touch our lives. That at least is what we were told.

But I guess that all of us have learnt by now that we shouldn't believe everything we hear. At least when it comes to "democracy" in Guyana. Many PPP acolytes would have jumped up by now in righteous indignation and screamed, "Well haven't we done better than the PNC?" Well yes, but that doesn't mean that we have democracy in Guyana. There isn't a switch that flips between "dictatorship" right into "democracy". The road to democracy involves passing quite a few milestones that are only glimmers on our horizons right now in Guyana.

One of the obstacles in the way of establishing democracy here, is the simple truth that the PPP literally has a very different view on what democracy is all about. The PPP, as a Marxist-Leninist party dismisses, as irrelevant, the notion that we should expect to have our opinions considered in the formulation of national policies. This is all "bourgeois" nonsense.  The PPP believes in "democratic centralism" and in fact asserts that this practice is the very highest form of democracy. In this view, the vast majority of people don't know what they really need - so how can they be trusted to make decisions about their welfare. Decisions must be made by those who have mastered the mysteries of Marx. These enlightened souls would be in possession of the tools to discover the "truth" about any social situation and so can best guide the rest of us mere benighted mortals. The PPP mandarins, then, are the only ones qualified to tell the ordinary folks how to feel and act in their everyday lives. You should now understand why, even though the whole country has been imploding under the wave of crime and terror unleashed after the February 26th 2002 jailbreak, the PPP is insisting that there is no "crisis" in Guyana.

Sadly, the PPP refuses to accept the fundamental truth that is the foundation that all real democracy rests on - that man, by definition, is imperfect and that, inevitably, the knowledge and judgement of any man is imperfect. The corollary of this view is that it is therefore to the benefit of all men that in the reaching of decisions that will affect their particular group that the widest possible agglomeration of views be solicited. The old truism expresses this insight well - two heads are better than one. While this route may hold up decisions a bit - in the long run, the bitter experience and end of all dictatorships - including the Marxist ones that fell in the nineties - should have taught us that this is the safer path.

In the Marxist-maligned "bourgeois" democracies, where the party system has developed to represent differing views on how the polity is to be governed, the principle is enshrined in the phrase, auditur et altera pars - let the other side be heard. The PPP, of course, dismisses all of this as stuff and nonsense. Not surprisingly, it has resisted the implementation of its own agreements to enlarge democracy in Guyana by making the work of Parliament more "inclusive" through greater involvement of the opposition. Its recalcitrance is excused by its apologists, on the grounds that the PNC's record when they were in Government, was even worse. Talk about abused children! All of this comes to mind in the recent faux pas of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Bill in Parliament. 

As I said in my remarks on the floor of Parliament, the need for the bill couldn't have dropped from the sky. The PPP knew of the World Bank's decision point demands to secure the E-HIPC debt write-offs, for months now - the Bill itself would have taken as long to craft. Yet the PPP refused to alert the Parliamentary Management Committee that is the linchpin of any claim to make the Parliament more "inclusive" and more democratic. This Committee was informed so late as to give the opposition just two working days to study a bill, which, by the Government's boast is "comprehensive".  Where is the spirit of democracy? The PPP also refused to discuss the bill with the newly constituted Economic Services Committee, one of the four Sectoral Committees that are intended to allow Parliament to have an "oversight" function over the Government's operations - again to increase democracy.

Ironically, the PPP had had been haggling over the past few months over the lurid anti-Government details of the World Bank's "Guyana Development Policy Review. The report demanded, inter alia that the Government "continue modernisation of budgeting and accounting systems (which was the substance of the bill) and "ensure members of the National Assembly ...are informed about commitments being negotiated with international financial agencies in order to allow for timely debate and discussion."

The PPP has insisted that the laudable goals of the bill should convince the opposition to overlook the lack of consultation. But this old anti-democratic ploy that the ends justify the means - when leaders have to make decisions "for the good of the people" vitiates the very nature of democracy. If this last incident was an exception one could have overlooked it. But this is the pattern and practice of the PPP when it comes to sharing information with the opposition and with others. And the omission is even more egregious when one considers that in this instance, since the Bill was in response to World Bank/IMF demands, it was in the interest of all Guyanese for us to have the widest possible national consensus.  And it's not just the opposition - as we implied, it has the same policy even with its most diehard supporters - witness the Government's silence over its agreement with the World Bank/IMF on the future of the sugar industry.  It doesn't appear that the PPP is willing to change its "democratic centralism" spots. The question is, how long will its supporters be willing to go along with, "big brother knows best". The upcoming challenge of Moses Nagamootoo to have democratic elections within the PPP may open some eyes.  After all, doesn't democracy have to begin at home?


December 2003
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