• 24 Jun, 2024

PPP’s “working class” policy meaningless on the ground

PPP’s “working class” policy meaningless on the ground

PPP’s “working class” policy meaningless on the ground

Not unreasonably, in all societies, citizens are encouraged to critically evaluate the policies and activities of their incumbent government: governments after all, are elected to run the State on behalf of their citizens. And decide, we are told, “who gets what, when and how”.

This scrutiny is even more intense by those who voted against the government.  Especially in poor countries, where there is never enough largesse to go around for everyone, the scrutiny would centre over whether the government was unduly favouring its own supporters.

It has become common, therefore, for governments in the developed democratic countries – where public opinion matters - to announce ahead of time what impact their policies will have on specific constituencies – be they, as in the US, labour, business, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and so on.

The more divided and polarized the society, the more critical will be the evaluation of the government’s policies, since the premise of the government being the hand-maiden of “one side” is more believable. In Britain, for instance, during the Thatcher Conservative, neo-liberal governments, it was an article of faith in the Labour party that her government’s policies were “anti-working class” and pro-business, and every initiative was criticized from such a perspective.

In Guyana , when the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Government attempts to discuss the impact of their policies on the various constituencies in Guyana, unfortunately, their analyses are coloured explicitly or implicitly by their historical Marxist perspective. They still insist, for instance, on emphasising that their policies help the “working class”. This does not cut any ice with the ground constituencies, however, which generally identify themselves ethnically and evaluate the government’s policies from that perspective.

Talk of ethnicity regardless of class

Starting from 1992, the PPP has had to defend every single initiative – be it appointments to, and dismissals from the Public Service, downsizing of the bauxite sector, house-lot allocation, contract awards, against claims by the African Guyanese community of discrimination against them and favouring Indian Guyanese in the sugar industry, rice industry, businesses and governmental appointments etc.

In each instance, the PPP’s explanation has been too little, too late for the African Guyanese. During 2003, in the case of the Bauxite industry, for instance, with the Bauxite workers literally camped out in front of the Prime Minister’s residence (he has the Bauxite Industry under his portfolio), and a contingent picketing the Parliament (illegally) the PPP was forced to finally declare in Parliament that rather than discriminating against African Guyanese Bauxite workers, they had been subsidizing the industry and electricity for residents of Linden the workers for years. They had not previously trumpeted this fact presumably because it may have upset their Indian Guyanese constituents. But even this has not muted the critcisms.

This fear of exclusion from governmental benevolence is exacerbated in ethnically-polarized societies and the perceived or real discrimination becomes the occasion, if not the cause, of many a battle. In Guyana, when in opposition, the PPP (in 1977 during the “unity talks with the People’s National Congress (PNC) had pointed out (albeit somewhat coyly) the adverse racial impact of the PNC’s policies and actions on Indian Guyanese. Burnham retorted that, “much of the talk about unity is not based on class, but on ethnicity regardless of class.

Where is the socialist content of such ‘unity’?” Dr. Jagan, who had declared the PPP to be a Communist Party in 1969, was caught in his own contradictions and previous refusal to state the truth about the real nature of the Guyanese political impasse and was struck dumb. This silence evidently has become institutionalised in the PPP.

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Photo : Hugh Desmond Hoyte 

The PNC - between 1992 to 2015 and once again after Aug 2 2020 - has, in turn, consistently accused the PPP of practicing racial/ethnic discrimination against primarily its African Guyanese  supporters – even as it feels necessary to insist that it is not an “African party”. The PNC is caught in the same semantic contradiction as the PPP. The charges of “marginalisation” from the African community have been a primary fuel in the ethnic conflagrations since between 1998-2008.

The agreement signed by President Jagdeo and Mr. Hoyte in 2001, and the Communiqué of 2003 between the President Jagdeo and Mr. Robert Corbin, were attempts to answer such charges. But they simply led to additional charges and counter-charges over implementation or non-implementation. The PPP and PNC will have to overcome their ideological reservations and deal with a spade as a spade: the division of the cook-up must not only be ethnically fair, it must be seen as ethnically fair.

Governmental actions scrutinised for ethnic impact

To address this need, since 1990 Jaguar Committee for Democracy and then ROAR have been arguing for the introduction of an “Ethnic Impact Statement” by the Government before it implements any of its policies and programs. We did so consistently between 2001-2006 when ROAR was in Parliament. We have now all accepted the need for “Environmental Impact Assessments” (EIA) before we embark on programs that will affect our physical environment.

The Government, is presently being pilloried for not submitting one for its Wales Oil & Gas Development Project. The EIA policy is an acknowledgement of the fragility of our environment and the importance we place on its health and survival, for our own health and survival.

One would hope that it would be acknowledged that our social environment is as important as our physical environment – and certainly more fragile. After all, it has been vividly demonstrated over the past decade that the destruction of our social environment is the direct destruction of “us” as a nation. One cannot get closer to home than that: with the environment at least the effect is a bit indirect and delayed.

While we know that the cause (and solution) of our ethnic problem goes beyond governmental actions, the fact of the matter is that we have to begin there. It is a simple matter of justice. No matter which party forms the Government, all accept that Governmental actions have to be conducted on behalf of all the people: the State is our joint venture. Since, based on our history, we know that all governmental actions will be scrutinised by the populace for its ethnic impact (e.g., the shuttering and the reopening of sugar estates) what is the harm of scrutinising the policies ahead of the implementation?

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Photo : Ravi Dev 

The activities of the Government are part and parcel of our “national patrimony”. In fact, in Guyana - as in most of the third world - Governmental activities unfortunately comprise most of the national patrimony – and this is part of the reason why they are scrutinised so closely and emotionally. Who would deny that the national patrimony must be distributed equally to all citizens? Excepting, of course, as John Rawls proposed, when an unequal distribution would benefit our most disadvantaged. But ultimately, the criterion remains a question of justice.)

If such “Ethnic Impact Statements” could be crafted and issued before the announcement and implementation of policies and programs, they would precipitate discussion and debate, which could be utilized to modify the policies or programs before they become political mobilisation tools. Or precipitators for ethnic conflict. To wait for the inevitable ethnic post-mortem 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 to encouraging the latter happy condition.

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