HIGH FIVE FOR FREEDOM!

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TOMORROW, May 11, marks the fifth year since the election to office of the APNU+AFC Government.

May 11, 2015 will always be celebrated for several good reasons as a people’s victory. It brought to Guyana a new wave of an open, plural and inclusive democracy. For the first time ever, the people elected a coalition of six parties to form their government.

The coalition won those elections over its nearest rival by a single seat in the National Assembly. That one-seat majority closed the chapter of one-party rule in Guyana.

TREACHEROUS ATTEMPT
These five years have not been easy. Three and a half years into its term, the Coalition was faced with a treacherous attempt at its removal from office. Though our democracy was wounded by betrayal, the elected government survived for its full term as a result of support from the people, the strength of our legal system and the efficacy of our constitutional processes.

Over these five years, the Coalition Government literally walked between the raindrops of promoting internal good governance with full freedom for all, and defending the nation’s sovereignty against an aggressive external threat.

That threat to our sovereignty came both externally and internally. Like a dagger at our throat was the false claim by Venezuela to two-thirds of Guyana’s territory. And, like a knife stabbed in our back, was the appeasement by opposition, a former President, ceding Guyana’s patrimony by giving Venezuela a “channel out to the sea”. That channel potentially leads to all of our nation’s off-shore petroleum resources.

CAUTIOUS DIPLOMACY
In this grave situation, the Granger Presidency pursued diligent diplomacy in the national interest. It worked successfully for the controversy to be referred by the Secretary-General of the United Nations to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for a peaceful and final resolution under international law.

If the Coalition could be credited with any significant achievement over this period, it must be its prudent navigation of the integrity of our territorial sovereignty against a powerful and greedy neighbour.

SILENT REVOLUTION
Over these five years, there has been what I described before as a silent revolution to restore integrity in public office. The slogan, “Make America Great” in our context was “Make Guyana Clean Again!”

Our Government dramatically improved the legislative architecture, the development landscape and the lives of our people. Only Thursday last, the European Commission “delisted” Guyana from high-risk countries that are not fully prepared to combat the scourge of money-laundering.

Earlier, Transparency International in its report for 2019, disclosed that Guyana has risen by three points on the Corruption Perception Index (CPI). This, according to Stabroek News, is its “best score ever”.

This is positive testimony that the Coalition Government has flattened the “pervasive corruption” curve that has tainted the former PPP/C government which had reduced Guyana almost to the status of a criminalised state.

The PPP/C was in bed with the drug lords, operators of the under-ground economy, tax dodgers, land speculators, and an assorted array of crooks who plundered the public’s purse. Several of these accused felons face criminal charges and are actually before the Guyana courts, for which the efforts of the Guyana Government in holding former public officials accountable have been lauded.

This has been the consistent approval rating of the Coalition Government in almost all aspects of public life, including improvements in respect for freedom of the press, combatting trafficking in persons, ensuring juvenile justice, fighting domestic violence and gender abuse, etc..

Freedom House, a US state-funded non-government organisation, in its 2018 Freedom in the World Report, noted that Guyana continues to be listed as “free” and as an “electoral democracy”. It urged the government “to continue pressing forward with anti-corruption reforms”.

In 2015, immediately before the change of government, Guyana was listed as a country that was “rife with corruption”. Worst was the 2015 pronouncement by Freedom House that counter-narcotics efforts were undermined “by corruption that reaches high levels of the government”.

Freedom House in an earlier review, on the eve of the 2015 elections, stated that the “informal economy is driven primarily by drugs proceeds” and that the then (PPP/C) government was unwilling to implement or enforce anti-corruption laws.

Since then there has been a crackdown by the current government against illicit drugs, and the presence in Guyana of the US Drugs Enforcement Agency (DEA), has helped to carry the fight against money-laundering. This fight has not gone unnoticed. In 2017 the US State Department highlighted the progress made by Guyana which had exited all follow-up sanctions by the monitoring agencies.

GUYANA SHINING
Indeed, Guyana has been shining on all fronts. These range from the prudent management of the economy (actually growth for last year was revised to 5.3 per cent); suppression of criminal activities; improvement in salaries and living standards of working people and pensioners; expansion of internet connectivity and radio broadcasting; upgrades in delivery of education, health, housing, water, electricity; and better road, river and air transport facilities, etc.,

Everything, it had seemed, was set for the easy re-election of the incumbent APNU+AFC Coalition in accordance with the adage, “one good term deserves another”.
But for inexplicable reasons, a potpourri of gullible and opportunistic elements was rounded up as extras among a cast of corrupt, anti-national forces to fake an electoral victory to oust the people’s government.

It appears that they had miscalculated, as a recount of all ballots has not featured in the regime-change script. Now, as their dirty undergarments begin to unravel, we see ghastly caricatures emerging from the boxes of dead persons voting, ghosts who voted but whose presence at the polling place was not recorded, phantoms voting whose names were not on the list of electors, and inaccurate tabulation of votes, etc..

All of this is generating interest abroad. The ill-advised campaign is bound to back-fire.
On Friday, Chairman of the Democratic Caucus of the US House of Representatives, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, is reported as condemning apparent interference in Guyana’s elections and threats of sanctions against government officials.

For now, if I could coin a slogan for the first term of the APNU+AFC in office, it would be “High Five for Freedom!”

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