No quick-fix for equity

After the last (almost rigged) elections, the calls for “power sharing” have been reverberating from the Opposition. The call is being justified to ensure that the representatives of all groups be “at the table” when the economic pie is being divided “for the people”. Now, even as an end for itself, this has been justified because in divided societies such as ours, there is great symbolic and psychic value in seeing oneself reflected in country’s top leadership. We now accept “representation by presence” for women, so why not for ethnic groups? But evidently it is not only the wider leadership’s image per se that suffices. When the PPP or PNC are in Government, they take great pains to select leaders from all groups, but the cry of “exclusion” still reverberates – as it does at this time. The members of the “other” in the respective Cabinets etc are accused of being “window dressing” or “tokens” with no real “power”.
I have suggested that these parties create “ethnic caucuses” that meet separately to discuss and take stands on issues affecting “their” particular ethnic group, and then make recommendations to the party en block. One hopes that if their recommendations are accepted and demonstrably so, this might blunt some of the cynicism on “representation”. But even if there is Executive power sharing, one expects that the party with the larger number of votes/seats would still take the Presidency, with the party next in line selecting the putative second in command, the Prime Ministership. Will this be satisfactory to the second-tier party? Or their supporters? One is doubtful.
And the same questions of distributive equity/justice will be raised by the ethnic groups’ memberships if it is not perceived that the pie is being appropriately shared. We are then faced with the challenge of ensuring equitable distribution through some objective mechanism. We have suggested “Ethnic Impact Statements” be issued before any Governmental project is initiated, and then also at its end. This might be time consuming and clumsy, as it is with “Environmental Impact Statements” – like with the DHB project – but should alleviate the inevitable acrimonious post mortems such as are plaguing the PPP right now.
But we come to a very touchy topic that no one wants to address: what happens if even after ensuring that the opportunities are equitably distributed ethnically, the results do not follow suit? In a word, will equality of opportunity lead to equality of results? To address this conundrum, we have suggested following the American practice: if particular groups can show they have been historically discriminated in specific areas of endeavour, the Government should implement affirmative action programmes to rectify the historical injustices. Areas that immediately come to mind for African Guyanese are entrepreneurship and business; for Indian Guyanese, all the institutions of the state, but especially the Disciplined Forces and Public Service; and for Indigenous Peoples, all professions excepting protecting our forests.
But even if all these innovations were implemented, we have to accept – which is going to be difficult – that there will still be (at a minimum) a lag between equality of opportunity and equality of results. And this is for the simple reason that changes in behaviour that have been systemically induced over centuries will take time to alter. We saw this after the PNC regime between 1964 and 1992, which only had themselves at the table, yet at the end, African Guyanese were just as poverty stricken as Indian Guyanese – with Indigenous Peoples below them both.
And this was after the PNC mandated that all paddy be sold to the Government; constructed mega mills that employed primarily African Guyanese in construction and operations (along with housing etc) and then sold and exported the rice produced at high prices that showed an implicit 118% tax on paddy. Rice production plummeted.
They nationalised sugar, and imposed a levy to not only expropriate the windfall profits of 1975 and 1982, but maintained it to deny sugar workers legally mandated “profit sharing”. The levy went into the Consolidated Funds to benefit other public sectors, while the sugar industry was wrecked. Sugar production plummeted.
We do not have to elaborate on the running and staffing of the nationalised 80% of the economy; the Co-ops; the Co-Op Bank; the Co-Op Insurance; the dozens of new “Guystac” companies, such as Sanata Mills; 1000% increase in Disciplined Forces. etc.
Delivering equity and equality will take more than “power-sharing”.