New beginnings

Dear Editor,
General Elections are now very near. Given the troubled history of elections and their aftermaths in Guyana, Guyanese at home and abroad may be worrying. I share their concern and I make a call for all to keep the peace. There should be a firm commitment not to resort to violence.
A number of new parties have sprung up. That can only be good for democracy, so I wish them well. However, the trend so far has been that, come Election Day, mini-parties evaporate like drops of water on a hot ‘tawa’. Will that pattern hold? We will soon find out.
The elections might not be perfect but should be free and fair. No cheating. The will of the people must be respected. On all sides, there are good, well-meaning and patriotic people. Inevitably, one side will win and the other will lose. There will be jubilation on one side and disappointment on the other. That’s the way it is.
The coalition has support, no doubt, but, from what I can see, the PPP has the momentum and is poised to return to power. Should there be a change of Government, all parties need to accept that graciously. The ABC countries, Europe, the Commonwealth and the Caribbean should assist and encourage Guyana, not only with the elections but, in the event of a change, to facilitate a peaceful and smooth transfer of power.
There have been calls for constitutional reform. Some time ago, former Attorney General Mr Anil Nandlall, one of Guyana’s leading lawyers, stated that, given the many changes made to the Constitution, it can no longer properly be described as the 1980 Burnham Constitution. He also stated that, while there is room for further improvement, the issue is not so much constitutional reform as it is constitutional compliance – or words to that effect.
I agree. How do you legislate integrity? How do you legislate conscience and the human heart? After a valid and successful No-Confidence Motion, the current caretaker Administration has clung to power for over a year. I know of no precedent for that. The regime, therefore, qualifies for a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Some advice for whoever wins. Do not discriminate. Do not witchhunt your political opponents. Take the road less travelled; treat them with kindness. Guyanese do not elect kings, they elect servant-presidents. It is a sacred trust. Be humble and be honest. Remember, “Who steals my purse steals trash…” Governing a plural, multicultural country like Guyana requires fairness, inclusiveness, empathy, sensitivity and a high level of emotional intelligence. Have a ‘Guyana First’ outlook. From the time you form the new Government, be mindful of the next election. Do not squander the goodwill of the electorate; it is your political capital. Actions and policies which please the citizens and make their lives better increase that capital. Actions and policies which are wrong and make their lives harder deplete that capital. Listen to the public. There is at least one big suggestion box. It is called “Letters to the Editor”. Read those and, where valid and doable, take criticisms and suggestions onboard. Freely acknowledge and give credit to the originators of ideas and suggestions, and act on them.
You can even have a public “problem, solution” programme, in which citizens would identify a problem, suggest the solution and work with the Government to solve it. In this way, there would be ‘co-governance’ with the entire electorate, including – indeed, especially – those who did not vote for you. Do not tax people to death and spend like there is no tomorrow. Do not overburden the country with loans and do not deplete the treasury. Diversify the economy. It is good that oil revenue is on its way but Guyana is basically an agricultural country.
Use most of the oil money to uplift the poor. Be firm on crime, even severe when warranted. Create an Internal Security Force (ISF) with Police powers; village-based and staffed by paid professionals as well as volunteers. Domestic abuse and violence are huge and serious issues.
Build at least one women’s shelter in each county, staffed by qualified personnel and made secure by guards. Televise the first half-hour of your first Cabinet meeting. Let us hear the President laying out his vision and telling his Cabinet Ministers what he expects of them. Live stream it. So what if this has never been done in the Caribbean and further afield? Think outside the box! Keep cricket (of course!) and bring baseball to Guyana. Do not spurn the Guyanese diaspora. Welcome them.
I cannot close without mentioning a young, bright and rising star; Susan Rodrigues, host of the “Making the case” TV programme. Her parents must be so proud of her. In my opinion, she has the makings of a future President of Guyana. For now, it is Dr Ali’s turn.
We only occupy these human bodies for a short while. While we are in them, let us do the best we can.

Yours faithfully,
Sieyf Shahabuddeen