Business Page – March 25th, 2001


The Aftermath of Elections

Introduction

Now that elections 2001 are ended the political rancour and animosity have resumed. It is a shame that the fears of the business community as expressed by respondents to Ram & McRae’s Business Outlook 2001 appear not to have been noticed by our political leaders. For the benefit of our readers we repeat some of the findings of that survey: Forty-four percent and thirty-seven percent of respondents to the questionnaire were pessimistic about political instability and elections-related disturbances respectively.

Even if we ignore the narrow base of the economy, we must admit its fragile nature which is partly responsible for its erratic performance since 1997. How can a country develop in this political culture and how can political parties which claim to put the country first put it through this agony? In a society as divided as we are, elections merely reinforce the fissures rather than contribute to solutions. The other pages of this paper and indeed other media and sectors of society will no doubt address and identify solutions which our major parties hopefully will be willing to consider.

Negative growth

Ever since the 1997 elections the economy has been in limbo and we have had two years of negative growth recently. No country with as low an economic base as Guyana’s can afford to record such dismal performance. While some persons argue that people cannot eat GDP, growth comes from investment, jobs and productivity. If the business community - both domestic and international - does not have confidence in the economy, there will be no new investment to provide jobs and taxes.

The poor are indeed struggling to put a meal on the family’s table and frustrations are both understandable and deserve understanding. When people cannot get a job or have decent housing, the alienation is painful and the tendency to rebel against anyone and everything must be great. Campaign rhetoric about jobs does not create them and Business Page could not help noticing with surprise some of the claims made by contestants vying for votes. Perhaps those engaging in the type of action we have witnessed recently may not be aware of the link between such activities and job creation and that their actions drive people and investment away and simply make it harder to create further jobs. Mr.Haslyn Parris, an outstanding patriot and Guyana Scholar understands the link and it is therefore all the more unfortunate that he should have been the victim of an attack no matter how strong his attackers might have felt about the elections results. Mr. Parris and his colleagues should be complimented for bringing off these elections under such difficult conditions.

The leadership challenge

Both our major parties have a national duty to prevent a deterioration of the incidents which took place on Thursday. Those parties have been around for a combined period of almost one hundred years and they possess institutional memory and capacity. They have both witnessed some unforgettable tragedies and have hopefully learnt some painful lessons which they should use to guide their action in the immediate future. They have to realise that development cannot take place in an unstable environment. Mr. Desmond Hoyte has served this country with distinction for decades and while his words or actions in both government and opposition have met on occasions with displeasure from sections of the public no one doubts his commitment to the development of this country. Indeed Business Page has stated on more than one occasion that Mr.Hoyte has not been given the credit he deserves for the courage in reversing several of his predecessor’s (Mr.Burnham) policies including the re-introduction of several basic food items. It was under Mr.Hoyte that the ERP was introduced and the basis for debt relief laid. In these bold moves Mr.Hoyte would have met some objections from his own Party but he persevered for the better of Guyana. He is again faced with the challenge of taking action which may make him unpopular with some sections of his party. Economic development was a key issue in the Manifesto of the PNC Reform. He has remained committed to economic development even in opposition and it is for the sake of the economic and social development of the country that Business Page asks Mr.Hoyte to use all his leadership skills to bring his influence to bear on the activities taking place in various parts of the country.

The pre-requisites for development

The view that investors prefer stability to democracy per se is no longer valid as the lessons of around the world have shown. Indeed investors consider dictatorial tendencies in any administration as unpredictable and unstable. Such tendencies manifest themselves in corruption, disrespect for the rule of law and not unusually violence. No society has ever developed without strong laws which enjoy popular acceptance or with widespread corruption.

The rule of law extends well beyond the poor who steals or engages in anti-social activities almost as a form of protest some of which are clearly unacceptable such as domestic violence, violence against someone because that person belongs to a different race or holds a view which we may not like. It extends to all levels of society and includes Parliament, the public service, law enforcers, the rich, civil society including the media and the politicians. It is the foundation from which development takes place.

Already we are at the end of the first quarter of the year and we have no national budget and the results of the elections that some politicians felt would solve problems have still not been accepted by one of the major parties. In most democracies and countries where there is not such high level of distrust telephone calls would have been exchanged among the political leaders and the campaign mode wound down. Unfortunately, in this heterogeneous, divided society our two major parties operate within a constitution and an electoral system that gives the winner almost absolute control of national resources. The loser meanwhile has to lick his wounds, appease his supporters and hope that next time round five years hence will be his and their chance. Too much is at stake under this system and we have to revisit the system before it is too late.

Political relationships and corruption

Another of the survey’s findings was the business community’s concern about the relationship between the PPP/C and the PNC Reform, a relationship characterised by antagonism and bitterness which the elections campaign merely underlined. What is it that prevents our two leaders from speaking with each other setting an example to their supporters? Being civil is not prohibited under any political culture and it is clearly unacceptable for this to continue.

Yet another of the survey’s findings was the question of corruption and the unsatisfactory manner in which this has been treated by the outgoing government and some sections of society. Indeed one of the country’s leading newspapers almost repeated President Jagdeo’s inadequate response to some very credible complaints that his accusers should provide proof. Corruption is not a matter in which the guilty ones leave an audit trail and any government serious about allegations of corruption would at a minimum strengthen systems to prevent abuses and establish independent mechanisms for addressing complaints. The very structure of the Integrity Commission makes it into a complete farce and the new government should seriously consider the pledge in the GAP-WPA manifesto that the Commission be made into a constitutional body reporting to parliament.

One of the recommendations of the Constitutional Review Committee was the strengthening of the Office of the Auditor General. This Office needs more resources and greater independence as does the Office of the Ombudsman. These institutions operate as watchdogs and guarantees against official and executive abuses. A willingness to accept and implement recommendations for improving them will significantly enhance citizens’ confidence in the country’s governance.

Conclusion

Both parties must now realise that the country is faced with economic problems, solutions to which require a new approach by both of them. Those parties were born in the struggle for independence and are aware of the dangers of instability to the development of this country. The challenge facing the country and the responsibility which those challenges impose on the leaders are enormous. It will require them to move beyond the past and into unfamiliar territory convincing their followers about the new direction. It is what Business Outlook 2001 was all about.