One of the most glaring failures of the PNC-led APNU/AFC coalition government has been its undermining and weakening the institutions of the State – including several that it launched since 2015. In almost every field of human endeavour, it is recognised that we need “rules of the game” for us to function socially and this is where institutions come in. They are, as a matter of fact, the embodiment of such rules around particular values we seek to guide our lives. Most persons conflate the “organisation” with the “institution”, but the former focuses the persons playing roles to actually transmit the values embodied in the rules that constitute the former.
At the national level, the rules for governing our State are embodied in the Constitution, while statutes passed by the legislature would set out the rules guiding other lower institutions. As such, we have, for instance, the institutions of the Judiciary and the Police Force for enforcing the laws of our State – the values of peace and security; the Revenue Authority for collecting taxes – the value of sharing the costs of our State services; and the Health Services to deal with the medical needs of our citizens – the value of healthy lives.
Not surprisingly, most of our institutions are copied from the developed countries, since they are the exemplars of what we are attempting to achieve and we have seen the outcomes of their high-quality public sector institutions. However, most citizens of Guyana would agree that while life in Guyana is somewhat above the state of nature described by Hobbes as “nasty, brutish and short”, it remains so in many respects. However, if we are to examine the source of their angst somewhat closer, we would discover that the let-downs invariably stem from a failure of institutions.
Take, for instance, the complaints about the lack of security in Guyana, with the high rate of crime becoming higher with each passing day. As was noted earlier, the institutions responsible for the value of security are the Police and Judiciary. Now these institutions have been examined and re-examined on numerous occasions by foreign and domestic “experts”. There were subsequent tweaking of the “rules” that govern their behaviour to better deliver the value encompassed in their motto “To serve and protect”. The question is: why the failure?
The reason is that this PNC-led government, in every instance, focuses on the “institutional form” – the organisation of the institution, and not on “institutional function” – the ability of the institution to solve the problem of securing the articulated value. Take the case of what might be seen as the mundane challenge of improving the response of the Police to reports of crimes by the citizenry. Hundreds of vehicles have been procured – cars, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles, all-terrain vehicles, etc— over the past decade, but to no avail.
But this is because the Government has been focusing on the form and not the function of the Police force. It is clear that the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that were crafted to guide the Police response are not being followed, but it is also clear that internally, there is no follow-up to check and correct why there was no follow-up in the first case.
But it is not only a sin of omission that is being committed; there are also sins of commission. Take, for instance, the institutions of State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA) and Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) which were formed to carry out their eponymous anti-corruption functions. Over the last four years, while the forms of these institutions were in place, in their function, they were subverted to go after the political Opposition – while completely ignoring identified instances of corrupt practices with incumbent government officials.
But the greatest subversion of our institutional structure that holds our country together has been at the top: the Executive’s subversion of our meta-institution of “constitutionalism”, which demands that all adhere to the rules of our Constitution.