FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Dr. John Shivdat and Dhanraj Singh
Georgetown, GY – The recent tabling and success of a motion of no-confidence by the opposition in Parliament took much of the nation, the diaspora, and the international community by surprise. The motion needed just one vote from the sitting government which Mr. Charrandas Persaud, a lawmaker from the Alliance for Change (AFC) faction of the coalition government, delivered. While lawmakers on the government were taken by surprise, Mr. Persaud vote brought arguably exactly what ordinary Guyanese wanted, that is for lawmakers to take a pause and listen to the pain that is felt by thousands of families across Guyana; pain caused by poor budget and economic policies. But, perhaps the key message of Mr. Persaud’s vote was for lawmakers to hit the reset button and strive for some bipartisanship – a critical yet absent ingredient in Guyana’s fragile democracy of 750,000 people.
Mr. Persaud’s vote, which he asserted was based on his “conscious” and not along party lines, should be commended by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. It was unprecedented and a difficult decision indeed. But, it is exactly what the Guyanese people expect of all lawmakers. Honest discussions, debates, and disagreements on policies are vital for a democracy to deliver economic and social progress for the people. Mr. Persaud, in effect, voted for the people he represents. In this regard, President David Granger and Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo should also be commended for displaying maturity in accepting the results and assuring the citizens that the leading coalition will respect the vote and the democratic process and preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of Guyana.
While many lawmakers have displayed maturity and statesmanship necessary to preserve peace and public safety, some lawmakers have failed miserably. Videos of the debate of the no-confidence motion of the 111th session of Parliament show Mr. Persaud was being verbally and physically harassed and threatened. These acts cannot and should not be tolerated, especially in Parliament. Mr. Persaud, like every other Guyanese, is guaranteed freedom of speech by the Constitution. As a Member of Parliament, it is his right to undertake his constitutional mandates and roles in the absence of fear or favour. The parliamentary sub-committee responsible for the conduct of Members of Parliament including law enforcement must investigate these acts and hold those responsible accountable.
It is not difficult to understand why Mr. Persaud voted the way he did. Mr. Persaud clearly listened to the voices of his constituents, many of whose livelihoods were decimated by the government’s decision to close multiple sugar factories. We visited and surveyed families in Regions five and six areas within the past year and witnessed the economic hardship and pain that defined their lives after sugar. In the absence of support programs to ease the pain, transition workers to new sectors, and re-train and re-tool workers for new opportunities, some lost their only source of income and homes. Others were forced to take their children out of school, avoid going to the doctor to get lifesaving treatment and care, and a few even committed suicide. Many families are struggling in a state of depression and hopelessness. Those who struggle to understand Mr. Persaud’s vote should visit the districts he represents and listen to the people and hopefully, it will become clear.
Over the last three years, research coming out of the Guyana Budget Policy Institute, a non-partisan policy think-tank, shows how the government’s budget and economic policies were hurting families and the economy. Taxpayers continue to pump hundreds of billions of dollars each year into the government which spends billions on projects with little-to-no clear public benefits. Political cronies get rewarded with jobs with mega-size salaries and contracts while ordinary families are squeezed for billions more in value-added taxes and government fees. But the public’s frustration was also growing, and people are increasingly demanding more accountability from the government. Lawmakers would do well to remember that their decisions have consequences. The decision to close multiple sugar estates and place thousands of people out of work was no exception to this rule. Real families and their lives were disrupted by these decisions. Any attempt to interpret Mr. Persaud vote differently would be missing the entire lesson.
The democratic process as laid out in the Constitution has been followed. It never feels good to lose; however, that’s the freedom of democracy, and the people’s votes must be respected. For politicians on both sides, this should be a moment for pause and reflection. We are seeing this all over the world today as citizens are beginning to hold their leaders accountable for their decisions. In this regard, we should all applaud Mr. Persaud for his courage and for the principle on which his vote was cast. The current administration rode to power just three years ago when the People’s Progressive Party (current opposition) dissolved Parliament, called for early elections, lost the elections, and peacefully handed over power. It would serve both parties, the people of Guyana, and Guyana’s economy well for the same respect and maturity to be shown again throughout this process and the installation of a new government.
The task before the next government is no easy one. With existential threats on our western border, a promising oil and gas industry that is largely unprepared for, a struggling economy, deteriorating public services, deterioration in the business environment, high poverty and unemployment rates, a high level of mismanagement and inefficiency in the public sector, and rising public debts, the next President and government would inherit a full place. But perhaps most important is the need to bring together a very divided country and restore hope and confidence in the people that the government can still work and delivery on its purpose. Guyanese are not second-class citizens and as a country, we are too rich to be poor. Political parties have a golden opportunity to rethink their leadership, their vision, and their plans for a better Guyana and take them to the Guyanese people.
* Dr. John Shivdat is the Board Chairman and Co-Founder of the Guyana Budget & Policy Institute.
* Dhanraj Singh is the Chief Executive Officer and Founder of the Guyana Budget & Policy Institute.
Shivdat, J. and Singh, D. (2018). No-Confidence Motion Carried. Lawmakers on Both Sides Should Respect the Process and Look to Guyana’s Future. Press Release. December 2018. Guyana Budget Policy Institute.