Last Updated on Wednesday, 27 September 2023, 19:54 by Denis Chabrol
United States (US) officials on Capitol Hill have asked a Guyanese opposition delegation for statistics showing alleged discrimination against Afro-Guyanese by the incumbent People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC), opposition politicians said at a conference in Washington DC on Guyana’s political and economic conditions.
Shadow Attorney General, Attorney-at-Law Roysdale Forde said “today, we were requested again to provide data of discrimination and marginalisation by representatives”. While promising to provide that information, he said the opposition was faced with a “diabolical” situation in which government has refused to consult on the establishment of the constitutional Human Rights Commission which is empowered to conduct studies formulate reports, investigate and assess instance of marginalisation and inequalities.
Mr Forde recommended that the Washington Conference on Guyana consider the need for a “new voters list” and biometrics at polling stations, lobbying the US government to tie aid and loans to the respect for constitutional rights, establishment of the Human Rights Commission, collective bargaining with trade unions, and the substantive appointment of the Chancellor of the Judiciary and the Chief Justice.
Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Attorney-at-Law Amanza Walton-Desir indicated that coming out of the meeting at Capitol Hill with American policymakers was the need for the opposition to collect data. “The provision of empirical data: When we speak, one of the challenges that you have is that they say ‘where is the information?’,” she said in her remarks to the Washington Conference on Guyana. She described that challenge as conflict of difficult circumstances in which Guyana’s opposition is not given the resources to do necessary research and the constitutional offices like the Commissioner of Information and government ministers do not get a response. “All of these affect our ability to make data-driven decisions,” she said.
Chief Executive Officer of the International Decade for People of African Descent Assembly-Guyana (IDPADA-G), Olive Sampson-Cannings said if US-based Guyanese are to lobby their elected leaders to make their case for inclusion, her organisation needed her support to collect disaggregated data based on race. “When the United States articulates its policy on Guyana, they speak to inclusion. Inclusion has to be measured. We need to collect the data that speaks to where are the gaps…The collection of data is important in order for us to make the case
Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton, in giving a synopsis of the engagements on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, said his delegation provided a snapshot of the opposition’s economic plan for Guyana with a focus on human development rather than merely on infrastructure. “They particularly asked us for our development plan and I was able to identify many aspects of our development plan, first of all pointing out that the government only focuses on infrastructure is really a mechanism for corruption and that we believe it needs to be realigned, and that development occurs when human development is critical,” he told the conference.
Neither House Minority Democratic Leader, Hakeem Jeffries nor any other elected official addressed Day 1 of the conference. Conference organiser, Rickford Burke said that was because elected officials were busy trying to avoid a government shutdown. “I want to apologise for the two members of Congress who should have been here. We all know what is happening on Capitol Hill. We have an unfortunate situation where the government is possibly grinding to a shutdown and so they have to be on Capitol Hill to vote but we’ll have representation,” Mr Burke said. Closer to the end of Wednesday’s deliberations, he said the conference would resume at the Nati0nal Press Club where members of Congress would address delegates.
Delegates would on Thursday be going to Capitol Hill. Mr Norton also said studies were needed to match education and training with Guyana’s human resource needs. “We pointed out that the oil resources were not meeting the people of our country and that, with our people-centered development strategy, we will do everything to ensure that oil resources meet our people,” he added.
According to the Guyanese opposition leader, a delegation also met with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and provided a critique of Guyana’s economy as well as provided a type of economic approach including diversification and intensification and actual placement of agriculture in the hinterland regions. The IMF recently lauded the Guyana government’s overall management of the economy.
On the foreign policy arena, Mr Norton promised that under a new coalition-led administration, “new vistas” of cooperation would be opened up between the US and Guyana. “We were clear that there is a confluence of interests between Guyana and the United States of America in the sense that they pursue freedoms, they want safety and security for our people; things we all subscribe to,” he said.
The opposition also lobbied the US decision makers for support for a clean voters list and the use of biometrics at polling stations to verify the identity of voters and eliminate the possibility of multiple voting and voter impersonation. The governing People’s Progressive Party Civic had said it did not oppose the use of biometric systems at polling stations once it would not disenfranchise eligible voters.
Coming sharply on the heels of a visit by President Irfaan Ali and a high-level delegation to Washington DC, the opposition delegation complained to US officials about issues such as alleged politicisation of the Guyana Police Force, failure by government to provide funding to opposition local government councils, and the amendment to the quorum rules governing the Public Accounts Committee that had led to the cancellation of a number of meetings. “Government is hurtling towards a one-party State and there is no interest in transparency and accountability,” he said.
The Opposition Leader was confident that the meetings laid the groundwork for the opposition to be seen as “the government in waiting and will generally take over the country in the quickest possible time constitutionally.”
But, Executive Member of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), Dr David Hinds said much headway in fighting the PPPC would not be made unless the opposition controls a mass communication medium such as radio or television of its own and meets as an “all-opposition front” that meets at least once monthly. “We do things, and our supporters don’t know that we do things…We are doing tremendous work but it’s not getting down to you because we do not control the mass media and I think that’s something that the conference has to pay attention to,” he said.