The word “Dystopia” was coined in the mid nineteenth century as an antonym to Sir Thomas Moore’s 16th century “utopia”, that place where everything was perfect. In the intervening three hundred years, history, unfortunately had graphically demonstrated that even with the rationality of the Enlightenment in Europe, the human condition could still be made worse by leaders: dystopian.
With half of its term behind it, the PNC-led APNU/AFC government has made a mockery of all its high sounding promises in their 2015 Manifesto. Rather that the promised “good life”, citizens are staring into the darkness of a dystopian future. These citizens would probably prefer the other word that was proposed as the opposite of utopia – “kakotopia”: it is certainly more evocative of the “nasty and brutish” lives they now have to endure.
The Manifesto had promised to “save” the sugar industry: today, 4000 workers in Berbice and Demerara with join the 1700 workers, thrown onto the streets last year-end. The despair and desolation of these workers is poignantly described in the magazine section of this newspaper: broken homes, hungry children and frenetic attempts to keep body and soul together. The lives of sugar workers have always been bitter, but in Guyana today, that bitterness has the anger of bile, at their betrayal. The details of the oil contract – signed since June 2016 but kept as a state secret on one of the most surreal of excuses is another sign of the enveloping, stygian dystopia. Only a government that has the most utter contempt for its citizens would try to pull the wool over their eyes on such a patently false pretext. But now that the details are out, one can easily understand the real reason for the stonewalling: the government’s desperate to hide the massive sell out of the patrimony of the people of Guyana.
We do not have to repeat all the one-sided terms against the interests of Guyana which the Government “renegotiated”. That we have to pay the oil companies’ income tax from our share of the profits says it all, especially when the said companies are allowed to deduct up to 75% of total revenues for exploration, development and operating “expenses”, which they have the upper hand in determining.
But more significant is that the unconscionable contract vitiates all the hope that oil revenues will improve the lives of Guyanese in the years ahead. The leaders of a government that negotiated such a contract, when billions of barrels of oil had already been confirmed, cannot possibly have anything but their own interests at heart – and certainly not the country’s.
After all, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Angola etc for instance, signed even more favourable contracts for their oil for decades – and look where their ordinary people are today: still poor and powerless. When everyone is living in shacks, the reality of one’s poverty are not immediately apparent since there is no basis for comparison. But when, as in African and so many other oil-producing third world states, the oil wealth flows into the pockets of a those in Government and their cronies, their obscenely luxurious lifestyles the poor are made aware of their dystopian condition every minute of the day.
But people do not voluntarily choose to live in squalor and it is for this reason governments of dystopian societies are also, at the minimum, authoritarian and more often, totalitarian. They are unwilling to accept the social contract with their citizens encompassed in their constitutions as the ultimate and binding law. We have witnessed President Granger actually declaring publicly that his “perception” of the meaning of a constitutional stipulation is as valid as the Judiciary’s. In the dystopia, there can be no mediating institution between the maximum leader and the people: all the institutions of the state, especially the coercive ones such as the police, army and civil service are to be bent to his will.
Welcome to the “brave new world”.