USAID report recommends APNU+AFC, PPP “power sharing” to manage oil wealth

Last Updated on Monday, 14 February 2022, 8:01 by Denis Chabrol

A Democracy and Governance Assessment prepared for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) says Guyana’s two major political parties need to engage in power-sharing in order to manage the country’s oil wealth efficiently.

Dated August 2021, the assessment cited the for the two major political parties to abandon the current majoritarian political model in which the party with at least 51 percent of the popular vote forms the government.

“The ruling party, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and the opposition coalition the A Partnership for National Unity and Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) need to find a way to form a functioning democracy based on power-sharing rather than a “winner takes all” mentality. This would ensure that the unprecedented wealth in oil reserves can be transparently and equitably managed for the benefit of all Guyanese,” the report states.  The Working People’s Alliance (WPA) has historically called for executive power sharing.

The assessment frowned on the National Assembly  as a possible mechanism for initiating reform discussions and formalising power sharing, saying that it “has been combative at best.”

The Democracy and Governance Assessment recalls that the 2020 parliamentary sessions commenced with parliamentarians trading verbal personal insults rather than engaging in civilised discourse on matters of national importance.

The USAID assessment notes that the  2020 World Bank Governance Indicators Report states that Guyana ranks very low on Political Stability 38.57.

Subsequent to the publication of the report, in late December 2021, the National Assembly erupted into chaos once again when APNU+AFC parliamentarians sought to block the passage of a new sovereign wealth fund law  by blowing whistles, grabbing the mace and damaging public address and internet equipment after the government refused to allow for more time for consultations. Last week, APNU+AFC parliamentarian Sherod Duncan was suspended from several sittings for protesting vociferously House Speaker Manzoor Nadir’s refusal to censure Minister of Local Government, Nigel Dharamlall for his “dildo” remark to a female opposition parliamentarian. He subsequently expressed a conditional regret for his unparliamentary remarks “if” anyone was offended and Mr. Nadir did not say whether the “dildo” comment was in fact unparliamentary.

While in opposition, the PPP parliamentarians had chanted down President David Granger and waived placards as he had addressed the Parliament, and Juan Edghill had refused then House Speaker Barton Scotland’s order to leave the National Assembly after he had been ruled out of order.

“While Parliamentary decision-making can promote consensus building and compromise, the assessment finds that it only worsens the political divide,” the assessment states. The assessors also reason that Guyana will continue to face unstable socio-cultural and governance conditions until ethnic inclusion in the decision-making process is institutionalized.

Noting that Afro-Guyanese comprise about 30 percent of the population and Indo-Guyanese comprise about 40 percent of the population, the assessors’ desk review and the expertise of the technical team noted that the two main political parties are found to engage in identity politics and have promoted a “race first” platform for decades.

However, they say there appears to be a glimmer of change.

“Due to changing demographics impacted by migration, neither party can gain a clear majority based on race alone. There is also a higher migration of Indo-Guyanese, which is a factor in the competition in recent elections. The closeness of the 2015 and 2020 elections illustrates the diminishing chances of winning without a broad coalition.”

The USAID assessment highlighted a number of statistical perspectives: “The APNU formed a coalition with the AFC to win the 2015 elections with a razor-thin margin of only 4,506 votes over the PPP/C. This was the first coalition slate to win a national election and it brought some hope that the zero-sum nature of the winner-take-all system would be tempered. The disputed election outcome in 2020 also had a very close margin; PPP/C won 50.69 percent of the vote while APNU+AFC won 47.34 percent of the vote. The 2020 election produced 72.5 percent voter turnout, which matched the previous highest turnout of 72 percent in 2015.”

The team finds that that another dynamic that can disrupt the prevailing political polarization is the growing influence of the indigenous population. “Due to their geographical disbursement and isolation, there is not a strong Amerindian political party yet, but this segment of the population could become an important swing vote soon.”

According to the document, the expected windfall from oil revenues coupled with ethnic-centered political parties has heightened resource competition. The heightened resource competition has led to maneuverings by actors for positions in the public and private sectors and resultant claims of exclusion.