COMMENTARY By Dr. TARA SINGH
The Waddington Constitution of Guyana was suspended in 1953 and the incumbent PPP government was deposed from office. The fall of the PPP government was due to a plot hatched by the British and the American governments, consequent upon the buildup of their fears that Guyana was on the verge of becoming a communist state.
Ever since 1953, American policy and, to a lesser extent, British policy towards Guyana have been driven by communist hysteria. Up to 1992, although they were aware of it, there was no public condemnation by the US or British governments on the successive rigging of general elections by the PNC. This attitude by big brother was fostered in the latter one half of the 20th century, when there was still a relatively high level of political apathy.
However, Guyanese and others have become optimistic in the 21st century as higher education/awareness, modernization, technological expansion and social media would bring continual enlightenment into the process, as never happened before. It is within this perspective that we view the following recent signals of the United States as a change in US policy towards Guyana.
The US Ambassador, Perry Holloway, recently made some interesting remarks on the urgent need to set up a Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF), among other things, for the oil and gas resources of the country. His remarks were founded upon important democratic ideals as reflected here: “The development model Guyana now chooses will need to be a decision the people of Guyana make together, through a process of public consultations and legislative debate. It will not be enough simply to have a “rainy day fund” or even an investment fund, but to institute a revenue and investment framework that protects and effectively leverages wealth to transform the nation. I hope conversations will continue to prioritize implementation of a strong comprehensive sovereign wealth fund bill, in the broadest sense, that is transparent, independent, inviolable, and non-partisan.”
Three components of the Ambassador’s remarks are striking, namely; (i) “the development model Guyana now chooses will need to be a decision the people of Guyana make together through a process of public consultations;” (ii) “..to institute a revenue and investment framework that protects and effectively leverages wealth to transform the nation;” and (iii) “a strong comprehensive sovereign wealth fund bill, in the broadest sense, that is transparent, independent, inviolable, and non-partisan.” These unsettled the Minister of Finance, Winston Jordan, who took umbrage at the Ambassador by chiding him (Ambassador) for his apparent undiplomatic language and suggesting that the Ambassador’s remarks, “may give the impression that the Government of Guyana, and by extension the Ministry of Finance…has not made significant progress on this important piece of legislation.” We believe that Jordan should respond to these critical points very soon.
The Ambassador knows that the government has not been in the habit of consulting or seeking the inputs of civil society and others in the development of the Exxon contract, as well as, in other projects. Even the government’s own coalition partner, WPA (Working People’s Alliance) has been lamenting their exclusion from policy decisions and for being treated with disrespect by the coalition. The way on how the government has been handling the Exxon contract, also reveals a rough and compassionless governance style. The US Ambassador picks up upon this and other weaknesses and is fully aware of the government’s past intransigence over the release of the Exxon contract to the public. Blaming the PPP for the inclusion of a non-disclosure clause (which did not exist), that had prevented them from making the contract public earlier, backfired on the government.
The US Ambassador also had in mind the highly suspicious move of the government to bank the Exxon bonus in a secret account at the Bank of Guyana that is against the requirements of the FMAT (Fiscal Management and Accountability Act) which requires such funds to be deposited directly into the Consolidated Fund. And to argue that the secrecy was necessary because of the need to utilize those funds for litigating the Guyana Venezuela border issue, was such a clumsy explanation that it arose more questions than mitigating the issue. There are funds in the country’s reserve to take care of that litigation. Some critics suggest that part of the bonus funds was intended to be siphoned off into the PNC’s re-election 2020 campaign!
Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo offered his comments on this matter. “The Government’s response to the Ambassador can only be described as petulant ramblings. Minister Jordan, like his colleagues, continues to be impervious to suggestions…” Jagdeo said that the Ambassador’s comment was no different from what several commentators and analysts, including the PPP, have been saying about the urgency to create the SWF, and the need for transparency in the process. In developing the SWF Jagdeo recommends that the government takes cognizance of the “Santiago Principles” and also develops a model similar in principles of the Norwegian model.” He further urged that the remaining oil blocks be “subject to a competitive auction or kept for future generations.”
Jordan and his government could not accept nor enforce the Ambassador’s points, for if they do, these would throw the government’s entrenched leadership style into disarray. The government has displayed over its 3 years’ tenure, a total lack to withstand opposition or to engage in consultation across civil society. This attitude helps to explain their incompetence and mismanagement. Only recently the Guyana Budget and Policy Institute reported that there was “almost $(G) 1billion in financial waste, abuse, and mismanagement” at the Ministry of Infrastructure.
The SWF issue is not the first time that the coalition government has been at odds with US policy makers. Recently the US Embassy issued a travel advisory to Guyana indicating that the violent crime (robberies and murders) could not he handled effectively by the GPF (Guyana Police Force) because they lack the requisite resources. That position ran counter to the government’s declaration that there was a reduction in violent crimes compared with a given period last year. There was no outcry from the government on the US Embassy’s release of the travel advisory then, as they were constrained by a similar view that was shared by both the Canadian High Commission and the British High Commission.
Here’s another Guyana collusion with US policy makers. President Trump had called upon his allies (friendly countries) to vote in support of his decision to move the Israeli capital from Tel Aviv to Palestine. Guyana voted against the US, despite threats by the American President to cut off aid to opponents. While Guyana’s move might have been technically correct, critics say that it was not strategic. Guyana had the option to abstain, as did other Caribbean countries such as Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Haiti, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago.
Given the historical support of the US to the PNC over the period 1964 to 1992, and the apparent assistance to help the PNC dominated coalition prevail at the 2015 polls, one would have thought that the PNC-led coalition government’s attitude to the US would have been more pragmatic. It must be remembered also that the controversial $(US) 1.25 million Lead and Democracy Project which the USAID (United States Agency for International Development) said was designed to promote “consensus-building” in a politically divided country, was believed to benefit disproportionately the PNC.
The PPP suspected that LEAD was being used to support the opposition in the National Assembly as well as empowering mostly PNC supporters in the electoral process. Part of the PPP’s misgivings was reflected in the outcome of the region 8 election results. Perhaps the most egregious happening was the region 8 vote count where the PNC won at the general level election by one vote. Although the GECOM Chairman had initially agreed to a recount of region 8 votes, he was dissuaded by the US Charges d’ Affaires Bryan Hunt to conduct the recount, but declare instead the results of the election and indicating that the aggrieved party could take the matter to court for adjudication. The significance of the US move could be measured by these data.
While the PNC coalition was declared the winner of that general seat by 1 vote, at the regional level the PPP had 46 more votes than the coalition. One should also note that at both the regional and general level at Region 8, the PPP vote varied by just 1, while the coalition varied by 46 votes. A scrutiny of the election results in all 10 regions, shows that the party which won the regional vote also won the general (national) vote. The only exception was in region 8 where the PPP won the regional vote but yet lost the general vote by 1. That demanded an automatic recount. Had that happened, the outcome of the election might have been different. And yes, the PNC-dominated coalition should be forever grateful to the US Embassy to enable their victory at the 2015 polls. But we also know that in politics, people’s memory is short. We believe that the US Embassy has seen enough of the negatives of the coalition and would continue to comment on undemocratic moves and maneuvers by whatever party. They know that Granger has a penchant to utilize dictatorial measures and to violate the constitution. The US will not remain silent anymore! This is not the 20th century; this is the 21st century where enlightenment is also transforming people’s attitudes towards good governance, including accountability and transparency.
DR. TARA SINGH IS AN INDEPENDENT COLUMNIST.
The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of THE WEST INDIAN.