It is now over twenty years that inclusive governance, referred to previously by other slogans such as ‘participatory democracy,’ was enshrined in the Guyana constitution. The principle was set out in article 13 which was enacted as part of widespread constitutional changes in 2001 following the Report of the Constitution Reform Commission (“the Commission”) of 2000 which was unanimously adopted by the National Assembly. Article 13 states: “The principal objective of the political system of the State is to establish an inclusionary democracy by providing increasing opportunities for the participation of citizens, and their organisations in the management and decision-making processes of the State, with particular emphasis on those areas of decision-making that affect their well-being.” While Article 13 stands alone as an objective, no mechanism was established by way of legislation, such as a constitutional commission, to give effect to its purpose. The absence of a framework for implementation has caused article 13 to languish in desuetude.
Inclusive governance was a runner-up to shared governance in the 1999-2000 discourse on constitutional reform in the Commission. Shared governance lost out after extensive debate and, as a consolation prize, inclusive governance was offered to the Guyanese people. Recognising that article 13 was a mere slogan without justiciable effect, the Commission recommended the establishment of several constitutional commissions including the Ethnic Relations Commission with a tribunal, the Human Rights Commission, the Women and Gender Equality Commission, the Indigenous Peoples Commission and the Rights of the Child Commission. These were provided for in the constitution along with elaborate provisions relating to a secretariat, functions, and a Rights Commission Tribunal. In addition to these, sectoral parliamentary committees dealing with important areas of governance were recommended, namely, natural resources, economic services, foreign relations, social services, security, constitutional reform and appointments. It is not difficult to read into the recommendation for the formation of these bodies the intention to give effect to article 13 by providing the opportunities for inclusion in governance. Sadly, some have not been established (the Human Rights Commission, the Security Sector Committee, the Secretariat) and where they have been established, they are not functioning optimally. Generally, the government ignores them.
Guyana’s modern political history has been beset by divisions which have historically created an unstable political climate resulting in severe political distortions, leading to rigged elections, authoritarian rule and ethnic violence. The constitutional innovations described above were intended to involve the political opposition in governance, albeit not in government which was the preferred option of many members of the Commission. This would have ensured the opposition’s input in policy making on the one hand and the interrogation of government policies on the other hand. As it turned out, the divisions in the society which the elaborate systems outlined above were intended to alleviate, have not materialized. Instead, they have intensified. While the opposition is not blameless in these failures, the fact and reality today are that the political forces in Guyana are more divided than ever before. The perceptions of African Guyanese, as articulated by their elected and non-elected spokespersons are that discrimination and marginalization of African Guyanese are at their worst and the benefits of the oil wealth are being enjoyed only by Indian Guyanese and their allies. There is no point any longer in seeking proof, or in rebuttal. The reality to be confronted by Guyana is no longer whether discrimination and marginalization exist. The reality to be confronted is that such a belief among African Guyanese is widespread, whether or not it has been contrived.
The strategy of the opposition in dealing with its perception of the current situation has been openly stated and demonstrated – political confrontation! Spokespersons have been expressing veiled warnings that, not that they will instigate violence, but that violence, partition and other negative consequences are the inevitable result of the ignoring of the plight, as they perceive it, of African Guyanese. Their argument, although supported in principle, leaves no place for inclusive governance. It is suspected that the government may also be of the view that inclusive governance is dead and any attempt to dust off the constitutional reforms mentioned above and implement them will be wholly inadequate to address the current tensions. It could still attempt to do so and when the opposition inevitably shows little interest, report to the American Government which appears to be pushing the Guyana Government towards inclusive governance, that the opposition is not cooperating. That, however, would not solve the problem of political instability in Guyana.
So, what is the government’s answer? Constitutional reform! The Government has not said what reforms it proposes. The Opposition has not called for constitutional reform. As explained above, the extensive constitutional reforms enshrined in 2001 have failed to address Guyana’s chronic political instability. To give some kind of credibility, not only to the government’s efforts to resolve the country’s political problems, but to its programme for constitutional reform, the government needs to let the Guyanese people know what is the objective of constitutional reform, what issues it is intended to address, and how. The opposition hasn’t said so, but it is clearly demanding a seat at the table, in some form or the other, of resource distribution and contract awards, at least. Does the government have a plan?