Come out and vote

PM-My-Turn-Feature-ImageNO one can reasonably dispute the fact that the Granger-led APNU+AFC coalition government has been strengthening the pillars of people’s power in Guyana. Today, our new-wave democracy, like a house built on solid foundation, spreads and shares the responsibility of governance, bottom up.
At the centre of this popular revolution is the restoration of grassroots, local, community-based participation, with simultaneous election of Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs) and Municipal Councils.

Local Government elections were held twice under the coalition government. These would be the fourth such elections to be held in the 50 years since Guyana became an independent state. Local government elections were previously held in 1994, after which I was appointed Senior Minister for Local Government and Information (with responsibility for Amerindian Affairs). I was unceremoniously relieved of the local government portfolio in the absence from the country of the President, allegedly for getting too popular among the grassroots. That opened the way for local government elections to be stalled by successive deferrals. Then they were buried for the next 20 years.

In 2016, the coalition government resurrected this important pillar of people’s democracy when it held the first of two such elections within three years of taking office. It has since provided constitutional safeguards for the functioning of the local councils, to insulate them from political interference with the establishment of the bi-partisan Local Government Commission.

Minister Ronald Bulkan, a consummate advocate of popular democracy, has piloted several other innovative features in local government; these would insulate the system from political manipulation, such as had taken place under the previous administration. He has successfully, for the first time since 1970, convened a summit of all local leaders, and presented them a road-map for stimulating local democracy and community development. That administration had invoked zombies known as Interim Management Committees (IMCs) that took control of towns and neighbourhoods when the time for fresh elections had long passed, and incumbent councils became depleted from resignations, migration and death of councillors.

There is every justification, therefore, for decent-minded persons to conclude that the noises that the Opposition is making over local government processes lack credibility. While it appears as sheer hypocrisy, it sets the backdrop for a heightened campaign to discredit Guyana’s democratic electoral system and the law-enforcement agencies, and to impugn the integrity of the judiciary. The latter is prosecuted through unmeritorious legal challenges that have given the Opposition the unflattering appellation as the “sue-sue party.”

People still remember with distaste the ramrod-like “Shoba” executive machine that was imposed on the Georgetown municipality. The Garden City rapidly became the Garbage Capital of the Caribbean. It was exposed to periodic and regular floods; epidemics of dreaded diseases had hovered over the city.

The Coalition has tried not only to salvage the capital, but to also spruce up the other towns. It has commissioned four new municipalities: Lethem, Mabaruma, Bartica and now Mahdia. The latter, a hinterland mining town, is the fourth since the people rejected the PPP at the 2015 polls. Guyana now has ten (10) municipal councils which, together with the NDCs, the Toshao Village Councils, Regional Democratic Councils (RDCs) and central government form the solid pillars of our political democracy.

As I’ve noted several times before, Guyana is on the path of creating a unique, native or autochthonous democracy. Our Inclusive State needs the partnership at all levels to address the needs of our communities on the coast and in the hinterland, from the grassroots to the pinnacle of power.

Having been removed from unbroken power after 23 years, it must be painful for the post-Jagan PPP to countenance the possibility of being replaced at least in some of the neighbourhood and municipal councils, especially in their traditional ethnic base. This morbid fear has unfortunately forced it to resort to dirty, desperate and dangerous tactics such as the political assassination of new and young candidates. In the context of Guyana, such tactics are racist and reactionary; and they could lead to despicable and deadly outcomes, as we see unfolding in the United States of America. There, racist, right-wing, neo-fascist groups have been identified with the attempted assassination of several high-profile, anti-establishment leaders, including former democratic presidents, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

That’s the problem right there. For years, villages controlled by the Opposition have been purposefully neglected, even though the councils benefited yearly from millions in State subsidies, and they collected rates and taxes from citizens. It is time that our people demand accountability. It is time they vote for better leadership.