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OPINION: Pathway to power-sharing “the only way out of our draining problems”

By GHK Lall

Though I am pessimistic about the prospects of power-sharing in this country, I see it as the only way out of our draining problems. The winner-takes-all results over each elections cycle have left us in a darker, more dangerous place. Our society is more polarized, losing citizens more disgruntled, more uncooperating, and more undermining. We cannot go anywhere like this; we are unable to extract the best out of our pool of talented human resources, or the most out our many natural resources.

But we have to find a way that offers a chance to minimize this self-defeating cycle. The first thing that comes to mind is the governance arrangement in Northern Ireland. For sure, it is shaky and subject to continual efforts by hardliners to weaken, if not derail it; think of the Sudan and the stops and starts that plague its efforts. I envision power-sharing as involving a multi-party presence, and to which I would add an influential civic component. By civic I mean representation from the main religious blocs, with possible others to include trade unions, reputable commercial voices, maybe even diaspora elements. The main thing is that everybody thinks and feels that they are part of the governing and decision-making agency.

Second, and because this is the way I see such arrangements, any power-sharing arrangement has to be temporary, a marriage of convenience to pave the way out of a distrustful, fragile, and perilous situation. In Guyana, I would suggest a two-year time frame; one that is three years in length would be stretching things too long, while one year is too short for the priorities that have to be specified, agreed upon, and finalized. There would not be enough time in a year to put in place processes to resolve the many disputes that are sure to arise, or to lay the groundwork for measuring the rate and degree of progress made, if any.

There needs to be enough time and space to scrap the existing constitution and start over. As a work of political craftsmanship, what we have is unparalleled; as a means of managing a divided society, it makes possible every conceivable manner of trickery. There are just too many loopholes and opportunities to interpret to one’s own satisfaction, which weakens the already suspicious fabric of society, and builds towards more of the politically and personally painful. Most important, the provisions and structure of any new constitution must set out with its main objective being to dismantle and destroy the political processes and arrangement that enable racially dominant governance. Parties must be made to start over in racial formats different from those that exist; they must reflect demographic and cultural and regional ingredients, with heavy emphasis on the first.

The new engineering must include limiting the time that any one leader, or party, or combination of parties, is constitutionally allowed to rule, and with clear authority furnished on how to block attempts to circumvent through the courts or any other way. I would recommend overhauling the way parliament is set up, with either a unicameral or two-tier house in place; also, who is eligible to serve there, with age limit identified. The appointments of chancellor and Chief Justice, Auditor General, and CoP, among others, should all be stripped from political hands. The oversight boards and commissions must be nominated and dominated by people from civil society ranks. These are a good start with much more, I believe, needed to be added.

Here is another key: Whatever is finalized has to be laid out in the most unambiguous language possible. This must then be put to a referendum requiring at least 66% ratification by the population age 16 and older.

Before we can be made to get to anywhere near to any of this, there has to be powerful people who could serve as recognized contributors, who are truly independent mediators. I regret to say that I believe that even the most respected Guyanese would be looked at by local political parties (one or the other of the major ones) as biased, hence unacceptable. This is regardless of where they may be located and how well they have done. It is a shame and the ugly reality of our racial and political deformities. This leaves only outsiders, and those are whom it will have to be.

The Americans (along with their Canadian and European companions) have a long history here and a large stake; all have to be part of any mediating presence to bring us to the table to implement a power-sharing structure. Additionally, these have the prestige, power, and means to make people move and things happen. Our neighbors from Caricom have to be among the intermediaries, and I would extend the circle to include the UN, the OAS, and the Carter Center. Specifically, I would love to see and welcome back the esteemed and Honorable Mia Mottley leading a Caricom presence, with others being Dr. Ralph Gonsalves (St Vincent and the Grenadines), Portia Simpson or PJ Patterson (Jamaica), and one of the retired Chiefs of the CCJ.

Now I must go out on a high, slender, and shaky limb that is sure to be sawed off at the point of greatest danger. I clamber up. From Guyana’s children (sure to be disowned), I would recommend Moses Bhagwan and Elder Eusi Kwayana. The latter should be an automatic, but age may be a factor. To those names I add Baroness Valerie Amos, and Sir Shridath Ramphal, if only for the considerations that must be given to the international weight that he would bring, the helpful influences he could assemble.

All local residents are out (OUT!): too much suspicions of bias and the worst motives. Since we are not willing to listen to one another, or to trust any Guyanese outside of our group, then it must be the foreigners. That, too, is shame and brings great personal regret. But it is one we have to endure, and to accept, if we seriously desire to move forward by giving ourselves a push start to another direction in the search for higher ground. Secondarily, I think that illustrious Guyanese could be gathered to contribute to the vital supporting socio-political-economic-legal ‘think tank’ mechanism that would be essential.

As I share this, I am aware that, for certainty, there would emerge those from both sides, who are totally against any power-sharing talk and movement. It is not a matter of genuine considerations of what gives the best chance of digging us out a deep hole, not about country, nor of relief for the widest cross section of its peoples and the greatest number of them. At the heart, it is about them: what they have to give up, how their ambitions will be thwarted, and their calculations relative to power and the assets of this country would be subject to scrutiny and severe squeeze. That is unacceptable; and the loss of party and racial primacy means everything to them and for them.

Still, I would like to see this given a hard and earnest trial, the earliest one, a real genuine one.

Mr GHK Lall is a Guyanese author, columnist and former financial analyst on Wall Street.