Whittling of Democracy: Emergence of Totalitarian Methods

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By Dr. TARA SINGH

There are ominous signs that, despite their caretaker status, the APNU-AFC government has continued to tighten their grip on political power not only by controlling all the independent (constitutional) agencies like the Police Service Commission, the Public Service Commission, the Integrity Commission, among others, but it also acts as if there is no restraint in interfering in the operational activities of the police and the army.

In their efforts to secure the loyalty of the army and police in particular, they have tried to legitimize their approach by establishing Commissions of Inquiry (COIs) which render the results they wanted. The one-man COI into the massacre in Berbice (Lindo Creek) was to exonerate Fine man and his gang for the mayhem there, and to cast the blame instead onto the army and police. The government got what they wanted from the COI findings. Those murders were apparently not committed by Fineman’s gang, according to the COI.

Those findings set the rationale or laid the pretext for the government to re-organize particularly the leadership of the police. The Acting Commissioner David Ramnarine, although recommended for the position by the Public Security Minister,Khemraj Ramjattan, was not even given the position of Deputy Commissioner and was superseded by many of his junior officers. In humiliation,David was forced to proceed on pre-retirement leave.

Apart from those strong arm tactics, the coalition government has carried out a campaign to silent criticisms against the government. The most recent was their request for Dr Leslie Ramsammy to withdraw a letter in which he challenged the notion that the government is honest and has integrity. Dr Ramsammy refused to withdraw his letter and apologize, but the Kaieteur News (KN) offered a public apology. Even the mighty KN bowed to the command of the government! Many Guyanese, especially those in government service, are afraid to speak out against the government because they are fearful of reprisal.

Guyanese have vivid memories of how the government fired hundreds of workers because of their race and the belief that they are aligned to the PPPC. In addition, they recall how the government dismissed 1,972 Amerindian CSOs. And when information was leaked about a minister’s relative getting government funding for a scholarship that was not publicized, several civil servants were fired by the Minister of the Public Service, although she had no such authority. A COI ruled against the minister’s unilateral and illegal action, and the employees were re-Instated.

Any government that embraces these features could only be described as totalitarian, that is, it is authoritarian, autocratic and dictatorial. The government’s grip on state agencies is reminiscent of the PNC’s 28 year rule where all agencies were under the governing party’s control. There is not much difference from those 28 years to the existing 4 1/2 years’ rule of APNU-AFC. The distinction between state and the ruling party is blurred. The governing party uses state resources for their election campaign. At a PNCR rally at Hopetown, West Coast Berbice, the President traveled to that event with an army helicopter.

And much of the APNU-AFC political campaigning has been carried out under the guise as “ministerial outreaches.” This is ridiculous as the Cabinet was deemed resigned after the successful passage of the NCM, a condition validated by the Chief Justice and the Caribbean Court of Justice. A totalitarian government spurns accountability and transparency. It acts in what it considers to be, its best personal interest, which is self aggrandizement. The APNU-AFC has only enriched a few dozens of their friends and cronies, and has left the mass of people struggling. Analysts say that they have created about 100 billionaires.

Totalitarian leaders maintain their hold on the population by controlling the armed forces and offering them various inducements, as well as, making several promises for the future and blaming past failures onto the other political parties or the previous government. They make false statements that when they took power there was no money in the Treasury. That exactly what the APNU-AFC government said in 2015 when they formed the new government. Of course that was a lie. The country had a foreign exchange reserve of over $(US) 650 million. And there were billions of dollars in various sectoral accounts.

Totalitarian leaders only say that they honor the constitution but in practice, violate it with impunity. The APNU-AFC leader David Granger unilaterally appointed JusticeJames Patterson as GECOM’s Chair knowing that such appointment clearly violated the Price/Carter formula. But Granger was adamant and refused to listen to civil society and other stake holders until he was forced by CCJ to remove Patterson from that position. Again, Granger and his cabinet refused to resign in accordance with the CCJ ruling and call elections before September 18, 2019. Granger also forcefully removed the Chairman of the Public Service Commission from his position before the expiry of his contract. Granger continues to fool the people that he is an adherent of the constitution. This is in keeping with the tradition of totalitarianism.

Appealing to one’s race, is another technique used by totalitarian leaders. Guyanese have seen how the APNU-AFC’s insatiable thirst for power beyond March 2, 2020 have caused them to utilize racism as a tool to realize this objective. Even blatant acts of inciting racism and hatred, are not called out by the President or the Minister of Social Cohesion. Neither does the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) react swiftly to these charges. The ERC has to be goaded by stake holders, including the PPPC, before it takes any mitigating action.

On another matter, the Integrity Commission (IC) has reported that there are several MPs (most from the government side) who have not yet submitted their 2018 and 2019 declaration of finances and other assets. It has been reported that the President has not yet submitted his IC report, too. The law is clear: anyone who does not submit an IC report at the specified time is subject to criminal charge. But who will institute the charge for violation? The refusal to comply with this legal requirement is a testament to their disdain for the law and the constitution.

The IC had said earlier that it is starved for funds and has been unable to publish the names of the recalcitrant MPs and top governamnet officials. Stabroek News has offered to publish the names free of cost. The IC didn’t find this offer attractive. It said instead that they have not yet discussed the matter at the IC level. What is holding them back, if it’s not political pressure? This is the 2020 election campaign season and IC does not want to disclose the names of the errant individuals at this time as it could hurt their party’s standing at the polls. The ruling party’s interest takes precedence over IC’s principles and mission.

Even the Judiciary seems to fall under the APNU-AFC’s spell. When the Attorney General Basil Williams did not get his way in a court matter, he threatened the presiding High Court Judge, who was forced to recuse himself from that case. The matter was reported to the Acting Chancellor of the Judiciary, but no negative sanction was applied to the AG.

When the Chief Justice ruled that the No Confidence Motion (NCM) was valid with a majority of 33 votes, the APNU-AFC government having initially accepted the result, then shortly afterwards rejected it by claiming that 34 is a majority of a 65 seat Parliament. They appealed the ruling to the Court of Appeal, where two Judges, under intense pressure, agreed with the government that 34 is a majority of a 65 seat Parliament. That decision stunned both legal scholars and mathematicians. The other Judge exercised proper justice in accordance with accepted judicial standards and precedents. The public’s fate in the Judiciary has been shattered by that ruling. Such feeling has been reinforced when the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) upheld the Chief Justice’s ruling that 33 is a majority of 65.

How will the Judiciary restore it’s integrity? Guyanese are paying attention to another case brought before the Court of Appeal by Basil Williams. Essentially, the AG is arguing for a residency qualification to enable people to vote. In other words at a general level, if Guyanese who are registered to vote but live overseas, they should not be allowed to vote. Anil Nandlall has argued that residency qualification is not necessary for a Guyanese to vote. The Chief Justice has agreed with this position.

Finally, another hallmark of totalitarianism is when leaders go all out to protect the excesses of others from the ruling elites. The Head of SOCU was pushed by the Minister of Public Security to lay charges against PPPC operatives, and he did. It does not matter whether or not the case is a good one; rather it was designed to humiliate the individuals. This is a common tactic used by totalitarian leaders. This world is a dynamic place: what goes around, comes around. Now the SOCU Head Mr James is under investigation for corruption and while the investigation is complete, the Minister of Public Security, cannot give a status report. Why? He was always ready to provide such updates on PPP operatives who were charged! Does Sidney James know anything negative or explosive about the APNU -AFC, that’s why they want to protect him? Not to mention that the PPPC has written the FIU (Financial Intelligence Unit) to inquire into a large sum of money $(US) 5 million passing through an account reportedly held by the Minister of Public Security.

Democracy was purportedly restored in 1992 but after going through several hurdles, it now seems to have been replaced by totalitarianism!

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The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the position or policy of the THE WEST INDIAN.

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