Political leaders must be vanguards against corporatocracy, a risk to democracy

One of the most egregious corporate acts was the mismanagement of the design and construction of the Skeldon Factory by Booker Tate. GUYSUCO and the Guyana Government sued Booker Tate. The Guyana court ruled in favour of Booker Tate. GUYSUCO and GoG appealed the case. After 2015, the PNC-led APNU/AFC Government discontinued the case. The CEO at the time was a former Member of the Booker Tate Board. One of the lawyers at the time was Nigel Hughes.
This lawyer is known for his representation of big corporations. Absolutely nothing is wrong with his choice to represent big business. His law firm now represents EXXON. Nigel Hughes now wants to be President of Guyana, and he maneuvred himself into leadership of the AFC for this purpose. But here is the caveat: until the people make him president, he will continue to represent big business, even if it is against the interest of Guyana.
Corporatocracy may be a new big word for many Guyanese, but it is an old global curse, a deadly threat against democracy. While the threat of rigged elections remains a major threat against Guyana’s democracy, given that a government stayed in power through rigged elections between 1968 and 1992, a period of almost a quarter of a century post-independence — and given that the same political party that rigged elections throughout that period tried again to even more brazenly rig elections in 2020: that political party was joined by others in 2020 in their brazen attempt to rig an election in plain sight for the whole world to see — rigged elections remain a major threat to democracy in Guyana; and that threat is now compounded by the growing possibility of corporatocracy in our country.
Elections 2025 are expected to be held in November 2025. Leaders of political parties must show their commitment to the people of Guyana. Political leaders cannot hold a country hostage by telling them that their fealty or loyalty belongs to big corporations until, and only if, the people make them president. Who would believe them that, when the time comes, they would disown their friends in big corporations?
Karl Marx once described capitalism as leaders “pretending neutrality to maintain order, but serving the interests of the rich”. This description of capitalism is even more apt today than it ever was, especially for Guyana; but Marx’s description of capitalism is exactly what Nigel Hughes embraced when he became leader of the AFC while also holding on to Big Oil. Howard Zinn (2005) warned that politicians cannot serve two masters, particularly when one master is the big-money player. C Wright Mills had much earlier, in 1956, made the same assertion. In fact, a long list of influential global intellectual leaders: such as Joseph Stiglitz, formerly of the World Bank; Jeffrey Sachs, formerly of Harvard, and now Head of the Earth Institute at Columbia University; Edmund Phelps, the 2006 Nobel Prize winner in Economics; and many others have warned against the kind of corporatocracy that Nigel Hughes is embracing, deeming it a catastrophic threat and assault against democracy, transparency and accountability.
Guyana must not go down this road. Political leaders must earn the trust of the people. With big businesses increasingly establishing a footprint in Guyana, the threat of corporatocracy is evident. When Nigel Hughes sees no conflict of interest in his service to EXXON, while positioning himself as a candidate for the presidency of Guyana, he increases the risk of corporatocracy exponentially in Guyana. When he insists he does not have to disconnect from being a lawyer who represents the biggest company operating in Guyana today, and one of the top five corporations in the world, he refuses to accept a norm of integrity: either he follows his dream of being a political leader, a president-in-waiting, representing the interests of the people, or he represents big corporations. Doing both betrays accountability and transparency. He sees no conflict in representing the interests of one of the icons of global capitalism while at the same time assuming leadership of a political party vying to be in Government. For him, at this time, the interest of EXXON and Big Oil are more important than the interest of Guyana.
Guyana is a small country which, not so long ago, was a highly indebted poor country with one of the worst debt crises in the world. Guyana had a debt-to-GDP ratio of more than 800%, and debt servicing that was more than 150% of its total annual revenues. Guyana is today the country with the highest GDP growth rate for the last four years. It is expected to continue as one of the countries with the highest GDP growth rates for several years to come. Its physical and social infrastructure are changing at a dizzying pace, totally transforming the landscape. But at the same time, it is playing a pivotal and leading role in three of the global security initiatives – food security, energy security, and climate and environmental security.
Every leader and senior political operative must adhere to integrity standards. Guyana, for instance, has an integrity commission with which senior political operatives are required to file certain information. Outside of the requirement by law, there are international standards to be met. Every political leader must adhere to these standards, which are applicable to these leaders whether they are in Government or not.
With Big Oil being a player in Guyana’s economy and development, with billions of US dollars pouring into the country as foreign direct investment (FDI), Guyanese has to ensure we protect ourselves against corporatocracy. This does not mean that Guyana must not aggressively pursue big business. Big business investing in our future as a country is an absolute prerequisite for Guyana becoming a developed country. But when political leaders become pawns of big business, corporatocracy rules. One political leader appears to think corporatocracy is in his interest. It is definitely not in Guyana’s interest.