President Irfaan Ali’s Administration has just completed its first week in office, and as was expected, it hit the ground running. Ali began by swearing in the top tier individuals in his Cabinet: Prime Minister Phillips, Vice President Jagdeo, Attorney General Nandlall, and Parliamentary Affairs and Governance Minister Teixeira. Unlike Moses Nagamootoo in the APNU/AFC Cabinet, Phillips was handed the most substantial portfolio, with responsibility for Energy and Telecommunications.
The Cabinet appointees that followed were distinguished by their youthfulness; however, it should surprise no one that the criterion used by most Guyanese to analyse the Cabinet was its ethnic composition. And here, the PPP should be complimented for the ethnic balance it struck, which to a remarkable degree mirrored the ethnic composition of the country. Yet, it should be noted that Shuman, the leader of the Indigenous-based LJP, revealed that he had received complaints that there was “only one minister” from their group. One assumes that with Indigenous Peoples being 10% of the populace, they felt they should have 10% of the Cabinet, which would be two Ministers. With African-Guyanese comprising 33% of the Cabinet, one had expected that this would have silenced the critics in the PNC, but, of course, it did not.
Coming out of the record-breaking-5-month elections, it is my hope that no one would disagree that because of the PNC’s recalcitrance, our ethnic fissures have been appreciably widened. While we acknowledge that the PPP had to have attracted a significant block of Indigenous and African/Mixed voters apart from its Indian-Guyanese core constituency, this once again confirms the remarkable role ethnicity continues to play in our voting behaviour.
The question, of course, is what do we do about this in order to ameliorate negative effects? There are some – especially from the PNC and its supporters – who continue to argue for “Executive power sharing” between the PPP and PNC, which they claim would include African-Guyanese representatives in the power structure. As we have pointed out, however, those persons are being disingenuous.
They ignore the existential reality that African-Guyanese already have performative control of the bases of state power in the Army, Police, People’s Militia, Civil Service, and most of the supposedly “autonomous” state agencies, like GECOM. In his five years in office, David Granger single-mindedly expanded these institutions with massive new African-Guyanese recruits. To an extent, which remains to be seen, the PPP remains in the same position described by Dr Jagan in the 1950s: “in office, but not in power”.
In attempting to govern for the next five years, the PPP will be forced to hark to “the Principle of Anticipated Reactions” vis-a-vis the PNC and its strategically positioned supporters. This is real power that will be exploited by the PNC as they replicate the moves by the PNC and the WPA after the 1992 free and fair elections brokered by the Carter Center. The PNC started out by immediately accusing the PPP of “ethnic cleansing” when political appointees were removed after the change of government, and never let up during the next five years.
Desmond Hoyte, for instance, intervened in one inter-ethnic land dispute at Boerasirie to tell his supports, “Shoot to kill” Indian-Guyanese claimants. Immediately after the PPP was announced as winning the elections, the WPA took out a full-page ad in the SN, warning African-Guyanese to “organise your survival”. The remnants of the WPA, now merged with the PNC, have already launched this campaign.
It should have surprised no one that, after the PPP had won the elections in 1997, the PNC-led violent protests in Georgetown segued into a decade-long attack on the state.
Against this background, we reprise a suggestion we have promoted for the last three decades – the issuance of “Ethnic Impact Statements” by the incumbent Government before it implements any of its policies and programmes.
Since, based on our history, we know that all governmental actions will be scrutinised by the populace through ethnic lenses, what is the harm of scrutinising them ahead of their implementation? To wait for the inevitable ethnic post-mortem examinations is to ensure there will be trouble. Big trouble. The old cliché still holds: justice must not only be done; it must be seen to be done.
An “Ethnic Impact Statement” on governmental activities would go a long way towards introducing the latter happy condition.