The end of the era of the 'strongman'?

6th September, 2017 0 comments

- President Granger and the constitution in wake of Guyana’s other executive Presidents

EVER since the introduction of the 1980 Constitution, the Republic of Guyana institutionalised an Executive Presidency which lawfully entrenched its incumbents as constitutional dictators. A constitutional dictator is an incumbent President who is lawfully empowered by the Constitution to invoke its entrenched dictatorial powers anytime he or she so chooses. The President is not only the head-of-state and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, but also the “supreme executive authority” of the country. Government Ministers are creatures of the Executive President and may only exercise the delegated authority of their office on the President’s behalf. The President has veto powers over executive commissions, including the Elections Commission. Guyana’s executive presidency has powers to appoint members of the Judiciary and to prorogue or dissolve the Parliament.

Parliament is the only arm of government with the constitutional authority to remove the President “for violation of the Constitution or gross misconduct”. Yet, the powers of the executive presidency can negate or neutralize those of the Parliament by the issuance of presidential decrees that prorogue or dissolve that body. The Guyana Constitution makes a “strongman” out of its Executive President. The strongman in this context is a “constitutional dictator”. During and even after leaving office, the President cannot be tried by the courts, or held legally liable for any act he/she may have committed while occupying that office. The President is essentially above the law. Guyana’s Executive President, like Caesar, bestrides the country like a colossus!

Guyana has had eight executive presidents. Only two of these, Forbes Burnham, October 6, 1980 to August 6, 1985; and Desmond Hoyte, August 6, 1985 to October 9, 1992 were from the People’s National Congress (PNC). Five of the country’s executive presidents came from the People’s Progressive Party (PPP): Cheddi Jagan ruled from October 9, 1992 to March 6, 1997; Samuel Hinds ruled from March 6, 1997 to December 19, 1997; Janet Jagan ruled from December 19, 1997 to August 11, 1999; Bharrat Jagdeo ruled from August 11, 1999 to December 3, 2011; Donald Ramotar ruled from December 3, 2011 to May 16, 2015. President David Granger from APNU/AFC has been serving from May 16, 2015 to the present. He is the only Executive President not derived exclusively from either the PPP or PNC.

President Bharrat Jagdeo ruled Guyana for almost 12 years and was the longest-serving executive president. He will likely retain that title since the Constitution was amended to limit an incumbent to no more than two terms. President Desmond Hoyte ruled for seven years. All of Guyana’s other executive presidents occupied the office for less than five years, including President Burnham and President Jagan. President Samuel Hinds acceded to the presidency after the death of President Cheddi Jagan and served for only nine months. Hinds was Cheddi Jagan’s Prime Minister and constitutional successor. He belonged to the Civic arm of the PPP/C and merely warmed the seat of power until Janet Jagan, the logical successor to Cheddi Jagan, took over. Janet Jagan had served as the Prime Minister for President Hinds. Had he chosen to do so, President Samuel Hinds could have constitutionally defied the PPP/C and kept himself in power for much longer. For his loyalty to the PPP/C, Samuel Hinds was remarkably kept as Prime Minister of the country for just over 22 years under the other four PPP/C Presidents. His occupancy of loyalty resulted in Guyana having had eight executive presidents, but only five prime ministers.

Street protests

President Janet Jagan resigned after ruling for just under two years and died ten years later in 2009. Her presidency was plagued by tumultuous street protests by citizens who objected to her becoming President, because she was not born in Guyana. She was the only woman in the history of Guyana to be appointed both Prime Minister and Executive President. Both Forbes Burnham and Cheddi Jagan died in office without serving out a full term. It is almost as if the office of Executive President consumes the very lives of those who want to retain it the most.

Forbes Burnham was the architect of Guyana’s 1980 Constitution and he designed it to keep himself in power for life and to bring about unchallenged socialist transformation in Guyana. Known as the “Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana,” it makes the President not only the supreme executive authority, but also the supreme legislative and judicial authority. Burnham’s handpicked successor, President Desmond Hoyte used the considerable and unchecked powers of the presidency to repudiate and transform the cooperative socialist development path his predecessor had charted. Hoyte almost single handedly used the presidential powers to change Guyana from a socialist to a market-oriented development path while touting the private sector as the engine of growth. Hoyte also ended his party’s rigging of national elections, restrictions on a free press and restored free and fair elections. These actions led to the democratic replacement of the PNC party in government by Cheddi Jagan’s PPP.

It is important to note that both the PNC and the PPP endorsed and embraced the powers of the Presidency. For 23 years the PPP, while in government, did very little to reduce these dictatorial powers. Indeed, in the early 1980s, I interviewed Dr. Cheddi Jagan on the topic “Ministerial Government in Guyana” for over an hour at the PPP headquarters, Freedom House. I was ushered to his office by Ms. Gail Teixeira who was at the time serving as his administrative assistant. Janet Jagan, then editor of her party’s newspaper the “Mirror”, occupied the office next to her husband. She was in her office and did not attend the meeting. I specifically asked Dr. Jagan if he was in agreement with the 1980 Constitution and all the powers it accorded the President. He categorically told me that he had “no problems with the Constitution”.

He said that his only objection was operational but not constitutional. He lamented that “Burnham appointed too many Vice Presidents and Government Ministers” and that when he becomes President he will have far fewer ministers and only one or at most, two Vice Presidents. Burnham at that time may have had five Vice Presidents. It was a sobering moment for me in recognizing that the charismatic leadership of Guyana’s two mass parties had more in common than the nation realized. Cheddi Jagan himself was by his own admission a “strongman” and an authoritarian leader that would also have taken Guyana down a socialist path if availed the opportunity.

Charismatic leader

The Guyanese people have had decades-long love affair with the “strongman”. Both Burnham and Jagan were charismatic leaders and their supporters loved them and endorsed whatever they ordained. These founding-fathers of the Guyanese nation were strongmen in their own right before becoming the heads of their governments. They were the lifelong and unchallenged leaders of Guyana’s two mass-based parties. The ability to control mass parties as well as the government is at the very foundation of this type of “strongman” leader. Acceding to the office of Executive President made them supremely and widely powerful as well. The other six presidents became “strong” mainly as a consequence of their incumbency as executive president. The problem with strongman rule is that it is essentially authoritarian and undermines the democratic processes in a society. The PPP and PNC political parties led by these strongmen were themselves undemocratic institutions. Further, strongman rule is inherently disposed to diminish transparency and accountability with resultant regimes characterized by widespread corruption and authoritarianism.

Why then are the Guyanese people attracted to strongman rule? The strongman leader is able to widely dispense political patronage. They appoint loyal followers to prime positions and create jobs even when no work exists. They blur the lines between government assets and resources and personal property. They dispense favours to family, friends and supporters. Importantly, they create the illusion that without them being in power all will be lost. Strongman rule has created a culture of dependency among the Guyanese people on their government and above all its ultimate ruler. Government bureaucracies are made to serve the leader or his party’s demands instead of the country as a whole. The consequence of this culture of dependency on such authoritarian leadership is that followers are inoculated from self-reliant development. Those opposed to the ruler and his mass supporters are marginalised and alienated with concomitant negative consequences for the development of the country as a whole. Mass migration from Guyana over the past three or four decades is an enduring index and direct consequence of the Guyanese people estrangement from their rulers, be they from one mass party or the other.
Not a ‘strongman’

This brings us to the current ruling APNU/AFC coalition administration. Though the Presidency retains its paramount power, President David Granger is the head of a broad based coalition government that imposes serious restraints on his exercise of such strongman powers. He therefore does not have the freedom space to readily dole out patronage benefits, even if he wanted to, and to adumbrate policies and programs with which the other coalition party members collectively disagree. The populace cannot turn to him to readily meet their needs. Getting things done for the country as a whole and his own supporters in particular is often the result of transactional arrangements with other coalition partners. The President is not unresponsive. He is instead accountable.

Government ministers may be constrained to go rogue in order to provide preferential treatment to supporters of their own party in the coalition. The watchdog media in the country are ever inclined to expose any contrary actions by the President, his government ministers and other state officials. The Opposition PPP Party is also ever ready to rightly or wrongly call out any action by President Granger that smacks of patronage, corruption or that is contrary to the laws of the land. The demands for the new government to be transparent and accountable are deafening and are seemingly bearing fruits of good governance, if not also sometimes paralysis. The end result is that although he is also the leader of the PNC, President Granger is not a strongman.

Though liked personally by many, David Granger is not a “strongman” ruler. From all appearances, is seemingly wary about projecting that he wants to be one. He was democratically elected to be leader of the PNC, a mass party that has been working to shed it authoritarian image and which coalesced with other political parties to contest the 2015 General Elections and form the Government. While ethnic rivalry has defined political participation in Guyana for decades, the demographic transition resulting from migration has made it almost impossible for future governments not to be organised as coalitions of some kind or the other.

Is this then the end of the era of the strongman? The Guyanese people have become accustomed to the failures of their past governments to be transparent, accountable and democratic, and, above all to develop the country. People came to realise that whether they support the leader from one party or another, the fate of the country in the past has been less than salubrious. They have got to demand and become accustomed to a changed political culture and process that eschew the authoritarianism, personalism and corrupt practices of their past rulers.

Reform of constitution

Central to the electoral platform of the APNU/AFC Coalition Party was the demand to reform the Constitution of Guyana to, among other things, considerably reduce the powers of the Presidency. There seems to be generalized support for constitutional reform from the opposition PPP, civic groups and the country as a whole. Yet, the APNU/AFC Coalition has not acted with due haste to get this done. Is it the allure of the absolute power of the Executive Presidency that may have begun to intoxicate those who ran to change it? While there is no evidence of this, it is imperative that the Government act now to get constitutional reform done.

Doing so will be the greatest democratic advancement for Guyana since it attained its independence in May 1966. It will also be the single biggest achievement of the APNU/AFC Coalition Government in its very first term. It will enshrine the foundations for enduring democracy and development in the country. By accomplishing sensible and fundamental constitutional reform, President David Granger can be permanently etched in Guyana’s history as a truly great President who reduced the powers of his own Executive Presidency in order to advance democracy and development of the country he so dutifully serves and loves.

Article adapted from:

"Profit" is a bad word! Entrepreneurship and the Guyanese mind

11th June, 2017 0 comments

By Dr. Ken Danns

I WAS teaching at the University of Guyana during the era of the Desmond Hoyte’s Presidency and that of the succession in government of the PPP/C. I introduced what I termed the “Sociology of Enterprise” as an integral component of my SOC 100: Introduction to Sociology course which had enrolment numbers of between 100 – 150 students annually. The course lasted the duration of the academic year and students were introduced to theories on the origins of capitalism and entrepreneurship and required and trained to enact the role of entrepreneurs. The students were required to come up with a lawful business idea, develop a business plan and operationalise a short-term economic enterprise. This assignment explicitly stated that the more profit students successfully made, relative to their investment of time and money, the higher their grades would be for that assignment.

The students reported with great pride to the entire class on their rather innovative projects. These projects ranged from food businesses, farming, craft, organising large entertainment ventures, daycare, cleaning and other services, etc. Some of these enterprises have continued long after the class ended. The first couple of years the Sociology of Enterprise students did so as “individual entrepreneurs” or formed groups and worked together as “group entrepreneurs”.

By the third year while maintaining the individual and group entrepreneurs’ initiatives the entire class was turned into a “corporate enterprise”, complete with a managing board of directors, including a finance director, and board chairman and secretary. My University of Guyana’s sociology class, as a business incubator, initiated and developed successful and enduring projects like “Academic Freedom” a large all day fair held on Easter Monday on the Turkeyen Campus with the tag line “Academic Freedom, you got fuh come”; AWE Society – a theatrical production held at the National Cultural Center and “Miss University of Guyana Beauty Pageant”. In all of these highly successful short term enterprises, repeated for several years, the students actively engaged the business community as advertisers, investors, service providers and the public as consumers. The media, paid and unpaid, were crucial in promoting the students’ ventures. Students understood that all entrepreneurship involved risk taking and that many ventures fail.

The University of Guyana kept half of all profits made for use of its brand and facilities and these monies were used to buy computers, printers, office furniture, etc. that the university otherwise would not have been able to afford. The board of directors elected by the students accounted for all monies and paid each student from the profits. The Sociology of Enterprise Project maintained an account at Citizen’s Bank leaving a token sum of money in the account so the next year’s class would have some capital to start with.

I also lived what I preached by creating two successful businesses AWE Society Productions and the Center for Economic and Social Research and Action (CESRA). Many of my students created and sustained their own businesses after leaving the class. Entrepreneurship was not only taught and learned. It was also lived. The hundreds of students who took the course earned marks, money and a creative disposition to innovation and entrepreneurship.

The biggest problem I had as professor for the course was to convince our Guyanese students that it was okay to make money for themselves from their created enterprises. Students understood readily and eagerly related to the necessity for and challenges of innovation. But, the students in every class kept asking me same thing: “To whom or where do I/we donate the money I/we make”. The idea of engaging in entrepreneurial activities exclusively for personal profit rather than for altruistic purposes made most students feel uncomfortable and seemingly clashed with their value orientations to economic life. For most of the students “profit” was a bad word. The path to success in life consisted of earning a degree and acquiring a “good job”. Becoming an entrepreneur was not on their career radar. It required an epistemological break by students from their current understanding of economic life. I had to act as a “moral entrepreneur” and assured them that making money and a profit for themselves was a good thing. Further, that through their business enterprises they were providing a public service for private good.

Emerging from it post-colonial socialist past the Guyanese people were largely a nation of job seekers rather than wealth creators. The government was the dominant entrepreneur, followed by foreign enterprises, and the local private sector comprised mainly of family businesses. In addition, there were numerous small farmers, vendors and artisans engaged in “survival entrepreneurship”.

Cooperative socialism

The Hoyte administration had abandoned cooperative socialism, restored market oriented economic policies and embraced the private sector as the engine of development. The emphasis was on attracting foreign investment – industrialization by invitation – and divesting state-owned enterprises. The PPP/C government maintained this trend and in addition promoted government partnerships with the private sector. While emphasising the role of the conventional private sector in the country’s development, as a reality and an abstraction, these preceding governmental administrations maintained state dominance in the economy and were not very effective in promoting a vibrant entrepreneurial culture in Guyana.

Of course, survival entrepreneurship as a method to generate “income” rather than “profit” has always existed in Guyana. Tens of thousands of relatively new survival entrepreneurs have emerged unable to rely on paid employment alone from the government or from the private sector. Herein lies a virtual reservoir of untapped entrepreneurial talent waiting for a salubrious policy climate and appropriate incentives like paved roads, transportation, power, potable water and access to local and international markets to explode. Many operate in the informal sector and in the underground economy as “guerilla entrepreneurs”. People are getting their hustle on, starting their own small businesses or at a minimum buying and selling commodities and services. Seems like everybody in Guyana selling something. Guyanese are earnestly seeking to explore entrepreneurial activities outside of their conventional employment. Sugar workers, for example, supplement their seasonal incomes as taxi and minibus drivers, farmers, artisans and shopkeepers.

A few months ago, I travelled along the coastlands from the University of Guyana’s Turkeyen Campus in Georgetown to its Tain Campus in Berbice. I was fascinated to see the roadside markets in many villages with their bounty of greens, vegetables, colourful fruits, fish, shrimp, crab, chicken, beef, and other commodities tantalisingly displayed. These markets seemed to be flourishing more than ever. I tried only to think of this endless bounty of produce as “organic” and fresh, rather than wondering about their shelf life and what happens to these primary commodities when they are not sold. I tried to think of how very blessed and verdant Guyana is. If you even spit on the soil something will grow. Truly a green economy!

Most of these small enterprises are wholly dependent on the labour power of these survival entrepreneurs and lack survivability and prospects for transformative growth. A visa to the United States or Canada is a huge incentive to abandon these small enterprises and the country. If only the production of these primary goods can be converted into value added commodities through the application of technology to preserve, to can and to export. If only these vendors can be trained to tap the wind and hot tropical sun as reliable energy sources for manufacture in their communities.

Marked departure

The two year old APNU/AFC Coalition Government in Guyana has made a marked departure from its predecessors. It is decidedly and openly fostering entrepreneurship to generate employment, stimulate manufacturing and other value added enterprises and in general to give citizens a stake and a say in the development of the country and their communities. President David Granger in urging villagers to develop cottage industries stated: “Get into manufacturing; open packaging plants and factories! Villagers can do simple things by planting guava and using them to make jams and jellies; villages today are empty, so the villagers need to get involved in various manufacturing activities.” Guyana’s Minister of Finance Winston Jordan encouraged residents in the Town of Linden for example to “get involved in business” and assured them that the government will support their entrepreneurship.

This is a major policy shift where entrepreneurship is seen as a protocol for wealth creation and development not only by the conventional private sector, both local and foreign, but by Guyanese everywhere in the villages and townships. The Guyana government is seemingly cultivating an entrepreneurial culture among its peoples. Remarkable indeed! When the state plays the major and activist role in promoting private entrepreneurship countries develop rapidly. Examples are, China, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan.

This major paradigm shift in thought on Guyana’s development must of course be accompanied by the conscious recognition that “profit” is not a bad word”. Government regulations and taxation must function as incentives to wealth creation and profit generation rather than onerous burdens and disincentives. Celebrate the generation of wealth and profit. Promoting an entrepreneurial culture in Guyana as a development strategy importantly requires buy in by government administrators and not only its articulation by political leaders. Government bureaucrats must be oriented to stop seeing profit as a bad word. Emergent or established businesses must come to perceive government functionaries as enablers, rather than deadweights and vampires. The caring actions and long term commitment of the government are crucially important for bringing large segments of the vibrant survival entrepreneurship into the formal economic sector and above ground and enabling their sustainability. This is by no means to suggest that emergent business enterprises must be dependent on government for their survival. Private enterprise is economic freedom and a foundation of modern democracy.

The entrepreneur is important for development. It is through entrepreneurship that the forces of production are organised and revolutionised to create the wealth associated with industrial and postindustrial societies. The generation of profit is a good thing. It must be seen and treated as such by those committed to their own and the country’s development.

Article adapted from:

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