The Ethno-in­come-wealth dis­tri­bu­tion prob­lem and the no-con­fi­dence vote

Stabroek News Sunday - - LETTERS -

It is no sur­prise to me that the le­git­i­macy of the no-con­fi­dence vote is be­ing chal­lenged, led largely by the PNC sec­tion of APNU. The lead­ers of the mi­nor par­ties were given per­sonal priv­i­leges of 40% weight that far out­strips the 10% to 12% of votes they won. I am not say­ing that the 10% votes is with­out sig­nif­i­cant value. The PNC would not be in power with­out these votes. In­deed, there is a dom­i­nant branch of eco­nom­ics that says value is cre­ated on the mar­gins.

How­ever, the mi­nor lead­ers from AFC, JFAP and WPA were ex­pected to sur­ren­der pol­icy space to the PNC since they were re­warded with per­sonal priv­i­leges. They are at the in­trin­sic level ca­reerists. There­fore, craft­ing a Cum­mings­burg Ac­cord around some core pol­icy prin­ci­ples was never on any­one’s mind at the level of ré­sumé build­ing and pra­dos. There­fore, the mem­bers of the smaller par­ties are rel­e­gated to fol­low­ing the poli­cies and dom­i­nant strate­gies of the PNC old timers who have launched a vo­cif­er­ous chal­lenge to the le­git­i­macy of the PPP-spon­sored no-con­fi­dence mo­tion. This was ex­pected and to me rem­i­nis­cent of the early steps of the desta­bi­liza­tion strate­gies of the 1990s, start­ing from the mo­ment the 1997 gen­eral elec­tion re­sults were known – long be­fore Roger Khan could be the PNC’s al­ibi.

Sud­denly 33 is not a ma­jor­ity in a Par­lia­ment com­prised of seats equiv­a­lent to the pos­i­tive in­te­ger 65. Ru­mours of bribery are rife, just like the ru­mours of wide­spread drug deal­ing un­der the PPP, which no doubt pro­vided cred­i­ble rea­sons to fuel such ru­mours given one of its sur­vival strate­gies in the long-term bat­tle of tit-for-tat with the PNC. The PPP was baited into lean­ing left dur­ing the upris­ing (and af­ter) and as a re­sult it had no op­tion but to rely on the way of the war­lords as a dom­i­nant strat­egy. Some mem­bers of the se­cu­rity forces did not co­op­er­ate with the PPP gov­ern­ment. Hence, the PPP turned to help from out­side of the es­tab­lished in­sti­tu­tions. In typ­i­cal war­lord fash­ion, those of­fer­ing to stave off desta­bi­liza­tion did so to fur­ther their dom­i­nant strat­egy of il­le­gal­ity. Note, I am us­ing the term dom­i­nant strat­egy be­cause it is an es­tab­lished so­lu­tion method from game the­ory.

I don’t sup­port these old ex­tra-ju­di­cial strate­gies, nor do I be­lieve the no-con­fi­dence vote is il­le­git­i­mate as the gov­ern­ment ar­gues. I also do not agree that this is the best time for a vote of no-con­fi­dence; the APNU+AFC should have had their full term. How­ever, as an aca­demic who has fol­lowed the dom­i­nant strate­gies of the lead­ers of the two main eth­nic camps, I have a duty to ex­tract the long-term trend from the daily noise. This is why I men­tioned I am not sur­prise. Even if the no­con­fi­dence vote never hap­pened and if the APNU lost the gen­eral elec­tion, I don’t be­lieve the PNC will give up power.

This is be­cause the con­sti­tu­tion – which pro­motes win­ner takes all – ne­ces­si­tates that the loser not co­op­er­ate and ac­tively seek to un­der­mine the win­ner ex­plic­itly or im­plic­itly. This be­comes even more toxic once we add the eth­nic com­pe­ti­tion over scarce eco­nomic re­sources – the strug­gle for a share of the na­tional roti, oth­er­wise known as na­tional in­come. The lure of oil – in spite of the bad con­tract, geopol­i­tics and the price uncer­tainty – also en­hances the stakes and makes the dom­i­nant strat­egy of un­der­min­ing the win­ner a ne­ces­sity. If not, the other side gets most of the priv­i­leges and pa­tron­age be­cause of the logic of the strate­gic proeth­nic vote.

There­fore, in my opin­ion, the no-con­fi­dence vote and the gov­ern­ment’s re­sponse are just the lat­est man­i­fes­ta­tion of the per­sis­tent eth­nic dis­tri­bu­tion prob­lem. The po­lit­i­cal events are the prima fa­cie fac­tors. This in­cludes the ex­act­ing of re­venge by Mr Jagdeo for the loss of two years of his de facto term un­der Mr Ramo­tar. The PNC’s dom­i­nant strat­egy is to find all kinds of strange jus­ti­fi­ca­tions not to give up power. Sup­port­ers of the PPP are mak­ing fun of some of the rea­sons given for what re­ally con­sti­tutes a ma­jor­ity. How­ever, that’s not the point. The idea is to find rea­sons to ex­tend the life of the APNU+AFC gov­ern­ment as long as pos­si­ble into 2020, and af­ter if nec­es­sary.

By dis­tri­bu­tion, I mean how the na­tional in­come (or GDP) pro­duced in a given year is dis­trib­uted among the cit­i­zens. There is greater in­equal­ity when a small per­cent­age of cit­i­zens earn most of the an­nual na­tional in­come. The so­ci­ety is more egal­i­tar­ian when most cit­i­zens share the largest per­cent­age of na­tional in­come. The eth­nic dis­tri­bu­tion prob­lem not only plays out in the dis­tri­bu­tion of na­tional in­come, but also in the dis­tri­bu­tion of as­sets or wealth. There is more in­equal­ity when a small per­cent­age of the so­ci­ety owns most of the wealth. By wealth, we mean things such as houses, mar­ketable land, money in the bank, shares and bonds, works of art, gold and other forms of sav­ings. The stock of em­bod­ied hu­man cap­i­tal, ac­cu­mu­lated through ed­u­ca­tion and for­eign schol­ar­ships, can be­come an im­por­tant source of wealth in­equal­ity that also pro­duces in­come in­equal­ity over time. Those who con­trol the po­lit­i­cal process can con­trol who gets as­sets and even­tu­ally in­comes. The prob­lem of dis­tri­bu­tion be­comes par­tic­u­larly prob­lem­atic when as­sets and in­comes are skewed in the di­rec­tion of one eth­nic group.

I have an­a­lyzed ex­ten­sively the pre­vi­ous party-dom­i­nated dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tems since the 1970s. I did so in sev­eral col­umns in Stabroek News and in two pub­lished aca­demic pa­pers: “Pol­i­tics and Un­der­de­vel­op­ment: The Case of Guyana” and “The Po­lit­i­cal Econ­omy of Guyana’s Un­der­de­vel­op­ment.” These pa­pers not only de­scribe, but also an­a­lyze the im­pli­ca­tions for long-term growth and de­vel­op­ment. Hence, I will fo­cus here on the pe­riod since March 2015.

Since March 2015, the slow­down in eco­nomic ac­tiv­i­ties re­flects the PNC’s chal­lenge to the pri­vate sec­tor, which it in­cor­rectly sees as pro-PPP and against its eth­nic base and in­ter­ests. Since 2015, the PNC has ac­tively used its po­lit­i­cal power to fur­ther the eco­nomic in­ter­ests of its base. Ex­am­ples in­clude an IDB loan for only farm­ers in African vil­lages. The Small Busi­ness Bureau is be­ing re­or­ga­nized to cater for loans mainly to its base. The em­ploy­ment pat­tern of the civil ser­vice has switched back to pre-1992 lev­els of marginal­iza­tion of East In­di­ans, most of whom face ex­clu­sion at the mid­dle lev­els.

Some of the en­ergy-re­lated poli­cies we out­lined in the 2011 AFC Ac­tion Plan for GuySuCo were not taken se­ri­ously be­cause the PNC sees a suc­cess­ful sug­ar­cane (not sugar) in­dus­try would help mainly In­di­ans. The PNC also wants to ex­act re­venge for the sup­posed bad treat­ment the PPP meted out against the baux­ite in­dus­try. How­ever, this is a com­pletely er­ro­neous view for sev­eral rea­sons, but I will men­tion two: (i) the fi­nal prod­uct baux­ite pro­duces can be re­cy­cled in­def­i­nitely with­out break­ing down and (ii) sug­ar­cane sup­ports the pub­lic good of drainage of the coastal plain. Stan­dard ac­count­ing val­u­a­tions can­not deal with the lat­ter. The Power Pro­duc­ers and Dis­trib­u­tors Inc. has a strange view of lo­cal con­tent which does not in­volve sug­ar­cane as a feed­stock. The PNC-re­for­mu­lated PPD Inc. prob­a­bly be­lieves this will ben­e­fit the ru­ral base of the PPP.

In clos­ing, I see marginal­iza­tion as the un­for­tu­nate in­evitabil­ity given the present con­sti­tu­tion and the pro-eth­nic strate­gic vote. It is in this con­text, I in­ter­pret the no­con­fi­dence vote and the gov­ern­ment’s re­sponse as a bat­tle over the dis­tri­bu­tion of eco­nomic re­sources. The un­for­tu­nate thing about Guyana is we don’t have good data on in­come and as­set in­equal­ity at the gen­eral level, let alone eth­nic dis­tri­bu­tion. This uncer­tainty re­sults in much spec­u­la­tion, ac­cu­sa­tions and counter-ac­cu­sa­tions of marginal­iza­tion and dis­crim­i­na­tion. In spite of the data paucity, there are mea­sures that can be im­ple­mented to build con­fi­dence. I will out­line them in the next col­umn.

Com­ments: tkhem­[email protected]

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