Guyana’s democracy is not dead, but it is very very sick

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Guyana’s democracy is not dead, but it is on life-support, very, very sick right now. After 23 years on a journey, beginning October 1992, nurturing and strengthening freedom and democracy, Guyana has reached a stage where our democracy is facing stern challenges and threatened with reversal. We are poised to return to the post-independence harrowing experience of dictatorship, a period in which party paramountcy prevailed. Since May 2015, we have taken a detour to an all-too familiar road that takes us dangerously into dictatorship.
Two recent events provide eerie evidence that we are knocking on the door of dictatorship. The first occurred when President David Granger just this past week suspended Carvil Duncan as a member and the Chairman of the Public Service Commission and also as a member of the Police Service and the Judicial Service Commissions. Duncan is a legally appointed member of the Public Service Commission and the other two service commissions. But the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) view Duncan as standing in the way of APNU/AFC to do as it pleases with the public service, exercising unfettered power; the kind of power we see in dictatorships.
Since taking office, APNU/AFC has targeted certain people, intimidating them and in different ways trying to embarrass them because they refuse to act like puppets. Duncan is one of those people. They charged him with a criminal offence and have established a tribunal to try to get rid of him as Chairman of the Public Service Commission. Neither the criminal charge nor the tribunal has convicted Duncan of anything. Yet APNU/AFC has arbitrarily acted against the Constitution and suspended Duncan from carrying out his constitutionally mandated duties. This is not how a democracy behaves. This is the playbook of a dictatorship.
The second event occurred also this past week when Dr Max Hanoman, Chairman of the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC), held a press conference to announce that Cabinet has instructed the GPHC Board to terminate the contract of Michael Khan as the CEO of that institution. Just a few weeks ago, the GPHC Board had agreed that Khan should continue as the CEO, emphasising that there was no reason why Khan should not continue to do so. Since the Board could not find any reasonable or legal reason to end Khan’s contract, Cabinet took the unprecedented action to reverse the Board’s decision and terminate Khan’s contract. This is the continuing harassment of a longtime public servant because APNU/AFC could not get him to be a puppet. Earlier, soon after they took office in May 2015, they had sent him on leave pending a forensic audit. The audit did not find any reason why Khan should not resume his duties as the CEO.
These are merely two recent events. There are a myriad of other daily events and actions which show the stark threats against Guyana’s democracy. I will just cite two others here out of the several dozen we know of. The CEO of the Guyana Livestock Development Agency was removed by the Agriculture Ministry and sent to a junior position in the Guyana School of Agriculture without the involvement of the Boards of either entities. The Manager of the Guyana Rice Development Board was sent home and a new Manager appointed without the involvement of the Board.
In the meantime, people appointed by APNU/AFC are running amok, carrying on as if they operate with unfettered powers. Space only allows me one example: the CEO of the Guyana Water Incorporated (GWI) is running the public corporation responsible for delivering safe water as if they are accountable to no one. He hires without the Board and he undertakes procurement without any tendering etc. The latest scandal with the GWI is it has arbitrarily undertaken to switch from the well-tested and internationally approved chlorine as a sanitizer for water to a chemical called Antinfek which has not been approved for use as a sanitizer for water, putting the health of thousands of people at risk.
We have entered a dangerous period in our development story as a free, democratic, sovereign country. Governance in Guyana is not following the blueprint of democratic states. Rather it is following the footprints of dictators and tyrants. It is the reason why we could close sugar estates without consulting anyone. It is the reason why we could ensure Cabinet gives itself unprecedented pay increases and then tell people to live with it. As I have said before, we do get what we asked for. We believed dictators and gave them the keys to our democratic state. Now we are reaping the result – we are on the road to where dictators live. (Send comments to doc_ram@hotmail.com)