Black Empowerment: A Neglected Aspect of Governance

0
678
David Hinds

By Dr. Tara Singh

Well known political analyst and Working People’s Alliance (WPA)
executive member, David Hinds, has chastised his APNU-AFC government
for not doing anything significant at promoting Black empowerment. In his
apparent frustration, Hinds has also described the Granger administration
as “visionless.”

As a strong advocate of his people’s cause for recognition, justice and
development, Hinds says that the coalition government is performing below
expectation, as did its predecessor, the PPP. Could Hinds’ position have
any empirical validation?

Hinds contends that the PPP government had done nothing significant to
promote Black empowerment either. However, this position has been
challenged by the PPP whose leadership claims that at no time in the
history of Guyana have Blacks been better off economically, and in terms of
wielding power at the non-executive level, than during the PPP period of
governance.

Empowerment is the process of giving authority and power to people to
improve their material and social condition through providing them with
skills, resources, opportunities, as well as fostering attitudinal changes,
such as self-reliance, industry, sacrifice, deferred gratification and
accountability. Hinds in effect is saying that the coalition has not been doing
enough on education, training, housing, job creation, and skill development
for Blacks. He indicates, for example, that capital for business startups is
not readily available to Blacks.

What does the evidence reveal? The Granger administration’s move to
grant 10 youth with loans of $(G) 500,000 to $(G)1,000,000 for business
startup, is just one aspect of the empowerment process. Another aspect is
the Granger government’s plan to build 8,000 houses in the next 3 years.
Skeptics doubt whether this goal could be achieved given that for the past 3
years the government has been able to build only 300 houses. They also
mention that the past PNC government’s performance in this area has been
dismal. The Burnham FHC plan allowed for the building of 65,000 “housing
units” between 1972 and 1976, but only of 4,167 units (or 6.5 percent) were
built. And those were concentrated in Georgetown and in rural Black
communities. Nevertheless, those were important steps towards
empowerment.

David Hinds does not criticize the government because he dislikes it;
rather, he wants the coalition to excel; to perform at a higher level, partly
because of his fear that the PPP may recapture political power at the 2020
polls. He is fearful that the Alliance for Change (AFC) cannot bring any
significant amount of votes to the coalition as their electoral support has
dissipated. He is also fearful that an important segment of the Black and
Indian vote would not be swayed by ethnic preference at the polls, but
rather by policy issues. He understands that the 2015 general elections had
evinced enough signals of this trend. Hinds is worried about these variables
as well as the fact that the Blacks constitute only 29% of the country’s
population. Recent polls have shown that David’s deep fears do have an
empirical base, with the coalition government having less than 38% of
popular support.

It seems that Hinds also views Black empowerment against the background
of the “International Decade for People of African Descent.” Hinds’
indication of the coalition’s deficiency in empowerment also implies that
Blacks are economically marginalized. In addition, Hinds and other Black
leaders were encouraged by President Granger who, at the Cuffy 250
Forum in 2017, invited Black leaders to submit proposals to the government
for their people’s advancement. Bolstered by such great expectation, Hinds
has set lofty goals for Black empowerment. Does Hinds ignore the
government’s contribution of over $(G) 60 million to Black groups to help
promote their cause?

What Hinds is bitter about was his perception of lack of Black “executive
power” over the 23 years of PPP governance. The PPP claims that it’s
Cabinet was representative of the country’s population and that it was not a
token representation. Ministers, irrespective of race, had executive powers
which they exercised. For example, Sam Hinds, apart from being the Prime
Minister, had complete power over the energy sector. And when former
GPHC’s Chief Executive Officer Michael Khan was dismissed by the GPHC
Board, Public Service Minister Jennifer Webster intervened and restored his
position. These are a just a couple of examples of independent executive
decisions made by Black PPP ministers.

Hinds’ apparent pre-occupation with executive power, makes him ignore or
minimize the significance of “non-executive” type of power that is wielded by
his group. They (Blacks) control the army (90%), the police (75%); the civil
service (65%); the state and statutory boards (70%); and the COIs (90%).
This level of disproportionate representation has been a pattern inherited by
the PPP from the PNC. And there has not been any significant change over
the decades. At the political level, there are various other examples of
power distribution within the coalition government. There are, for example,
17 Permanent Secretaries of which 16 are of Hinds’ ethnicity. Of the 11 staff
at the Bertram Collins’ College for the Civil Service there is no Indian on the
teaching staff. Would Hinds regard the recruitment of 1,500 persons,
predominantly Blacks, into the army as a process of empowerment?

What about the militarization process through which many ex-army officers
and ex-police officers are being appointed to top positions in the public
service and other bodies like COIs? What about the huge increase (over
30%) in contract workers? Aren’t all these good examples of
empowerment? At the subtle level, there has also been the shifting of power
and resources (through tax and fiscal measures) to Hinds’ ethnic group.

Now that Hinds’ party and group are in office, empowerment for him in this
context seems to be restricted to securing economic advantage for the
Blacks. He should therefore be pleased that his government has allocated
US$10.4 million, plus another $(US) 2 million CDB funds to revitalize, and
address unemployment in predominantly 4 Black villages; namely, Ithaca
(West Coast Berbice); Triumph and Buxton (East Coast Demerara); and
Mocha (East Bank Demerara), which Finance Minister Winston Jordan
says had been “neglected” for the past two decades. Why doesn’t Hinds
see this as a significant move by the coalition government at Black
empowerment?

Interestingly enough, Hinds did not comment on the nature of Black
empowerment during the PNC’s 28-year rule, as if the PPP was solely
responsible, if at all, for that situation. Didn’t the Burnham PNC also create
the Co-op Bank and the Agriculture Development Bank to empower Blacks
and to foster entrepreneurship? They had ready access to capital but
mismanagement and corruption led to billions of dollars in un-recoverable
losses. Not to mention the PNC’s move to implement their brand of
“cooperative socialism.” The PNC’s FHC (Feed, House, and Clothe) plan
that was developed in 1972 did not materialize in feeding, housing, and
clothing the nation by 1976. Nevertheless, it was a bold attempt at
empowerment. In respect of housing, the PNC developed that at South
Ruimveldt and Melanie Damishana primarily for civil servants and PNC
supporters. Weren’t these powerful moves towards empowerment? And
didn’t the PPP continue with housing development that benefitted Blacks as
well as all other ethnic groups?

The PPP claims that they had allocated over 100,000 subsidized housing
lots to all ethnic groups. Apparently Hinds had wanted the PPP to offer the
occupants free houses too. Above all, wasn’t the famous co-op movement
conceived as the major transformative agent to “make the small man into
the real man?”
The main lesson to be derived from those projects is that there is more to it
than just shifting power and resources into communities! These efforts must
be accompanied by a vision and attitudinal changes, including proper
accountability.

We suspect that Hinds believe that Indians in particular have been fully
empowered and that the author of this perceived success was the PPP
government. Well, that belief is delusional. Indians in businesses have
worked hard, engaged their joint family, pool their resources, make
sacrifices to arrive at where they are currently. They didn’t get any
handouts from any government. Nothing stops Blacks and other groups
from engaging in business enterprises. The Black Roundtable is a good
initiative. It must take the lead. As to farming, whatever incentives were
granted by the former PNC and PPP governments (but not the Granger
administration) benefitted all ethnic groups of farmers. Why should we
despise a farmer or a businessperson because he had made the most out
of the opportunities provided? A beautiful house or a beautiful neighborhood
is created through vision, hard work, sacrifice, and deferred gratification.
Hinds wants substantially more for his community. He has to pretend that
his government is not doing enough or chooses to ignore or minimize his
government’s contribution in order to make his case for Black
empowerment more compelling. Contrary to Hinds’ critique, we believe that
his government’s approach to development and other measures has been
carefully designed to achieve Black empowerment. Hinds wants the pace of
empowerment to accelerate, irrespective of other contending claims on the
country’s resources from other segments of the population.

___________________

The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.

LEAVE A REPLY