Upon taking office in May 2015, the APNU/AFC coalition government immediately established the Ministry of Social Cohesion (MoSC). It seemed a substantive entity and was initially headed by a long-serving, strong-armed member of the People’s National Congress (PNC), the largest Party in the coalition and, in reality, the Government.
Many welcomed it, and given its perceived role, was seen as vital to the building, or rebuilding, of unity among Guyanese. This was on the heels of an apparent divisive elections, in which the coalition acceded to power by less than five thousand votes; seemingly less than what was required for a seat in the National Assembly.
Despite some crossover voting to the two major political parties, both with solid ethnically-based support, the results of the May 2015 elections may have also revealed a voting pattern generally along an ethnic line.
That may have rendered the establishment of the MoSC more relevant, especially when the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC), was not constituted since 2011. Expectations of the MoSC were, therefore, naturally high, as Guyanese in general, desire genuine efforts to help heal the divide. In addition, a sense of belief was created that the APNU/AFC Government was serious of genuinely working towards building national unity.
The fact that a Ministry was actually established and would receive a budgetary allocation, its intention would have been difficult to doubt. Therefore, the idea of a sustained national effort within the context envisaged, must be lauded. However, unfortunately, or unsurprising to some, the MoSC has seemingly failed to deliver what is believed to be its mandate.
For one, its importance seems to have been reduced following what appears as a downgrading from a standalone Ministry to that of a Department within the Ministry of the Presidency. That aside, gauging from many of its public events, it seems as if the now Department of Social Cohesion (DoSC) is more occupied with providing handouts in areas believed to be supportive of the coalition or those in which such actions can help to coerce voters in its favour.
With more than four years since its establishment, an argument could be made that nothing tangible within the realms of forging unity has been achieved despite the hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars spent, assumedly, for that purpose. This seeming lack of expected results could be as a result of the actions of the APNU/AFC coalition itself.
Almost immediately upon taking office, it began what was seen as a witch-hunt against many public servants who were, by in large, of one particular ethnic group and who were suspected of being supportive of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Administration.
If that was not enough, numerous forensic audits were seemingly used as mechanisms to disparage and discard trained professionals. They were replaced reportedly by Government supporters believed to be less skilled and overwhelmingly, from one particular ethnic group— a group seen as the support base of the PNC.
Those actions were described as political vendetta and wholesale cleansing of one particular group of Guyanese. It didn’t end there, for a number of them were charged and placed before the courts. Those charges were described as trumped-up with the sole intention to embarrass.
Over the past four years, records would show that the APNU/AFC Government fired and thereby caused thousands of Guyanese to be deprived of their livelihoods. That includes some two thousand Indigenous citizens and thousands of sugar workers. In addition, as a result of its poor fiscal policies, some industries and businesses were forced to be closed causing many workers to be unemployed.
Those said fiscal policies also resulted in a plethora of new and burdensome taxes to be unleashed on ordinary Guyanese. Vendors’ licences and rental for farmlands were also vastly increased bringing further hardships to the citizenry.
With many embarrassed and with thousands humiliated by being fired and made incapable of providing for their families, the priority focus would be to survive. That, in itself, would more than likely evoke resentment of the Government.
With such unavoidable resentment resulting from APNU/AFC’s highhandedness, it therefore becomes virtually impossible for the said Government, under the guise of the DoSC, to even contemplate any semblance of success for social cohesion. In other words, the Government seemingly divides the nation while at the same time appearing to wanting to build unity.
It’s hypocritical and insults intelligence. This is compounded by the Department seemingly prioritising its focus in the coalition’s strongholds and reportedly engaging in coercion for support in others. While the DoSC might have done some work in relation to its intended mandate, its overall achievement within that said context remains far from desired.
APNU/AFC’s disregard for the Constitution since December 2018 has continued to widen the division and exacerbate resentment. With that disrespect ongoing and with no indication of the DoSC instituting that necessary paradigm shift, its existence would remain questionable, seen as a medium for mass mobilisation for the coalition and disingenuous to the point of a failed promise; probably one never intended.