THE PIPER: Easter and democratic rebirth

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Last week we wrote about the Local Government Elections as a “rebirth”. Wittingly or unwittingly, the announcement of the results and subsequent appointment by the parties and groups of their candidates to the Town Councils and National Democratic Councils (NDC’s) have tracked first Holi and then Easter, both festivals that commemorate “rebirth” and regeneration.
piper1Guyana is sorely in need for a “rebirth” in so many ways in addition to democratic governance at the local level. But it is as good a place to start as any. Democracy was founded two millennia ago with the acceptance of the democratic principle of decision by the citizens of the city-states of Greece. The founding of the American Republic in 1776 was a rebirth of such a system of government when they rejected “taxation without representation” and asserted their right to govern themselves. While their success was perhaps quickened by their  distance from the British  centre of power across the Atlantic, their example was quickly followed by similar, though ultimately less successful attempts in France and then in Haiti.
The American Declaration of Independence begins with the revolutionary but simple words, “We the people.” They reminded the Kings, Emperors and other rulers that were then the norm, it was the people who constituted governments to run the affairs of the state and not vice versa. Sovereignty always remain with “we the people”.  Over in the West Indian colonies, the comparative  independence of the contemporary elected Assemblies were replaced by “Crown Colony” government that placed all power in the representatives of the Crown, rather than in “the people”.  Our governance had moved in the opposite direction than that of the Americans, who had introduced a three-tiered vertical division power in government – federal, state and local.
Whatever power was not explicitly allocated, inhered in the sovereignty of the people: power was exercised from the bottom up.  At independence, we were unfortunately handed the “crown colony”  system of top-down governance that the departing colonial had used to rule “we the people” for their interests. Elected locals merely stepped into the shoes of the departed colonials. It was because of this circumstance and its potential for abuse by the new “local rulers” that Walter Rodney had derided the “briefcase revolutions” that delivered “independence” to the colonies of Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.
There has been lip service paid by all previous administrations to the goal of decentralising power to break the centralised and authoritarian-inducing power relations but the legislation devolving that power especially in the crucial areas of ultimate line responsibility and revenue generation with independent spending power was always withheld. Until now.
Four new bills have now been passed by the National Assembly and assented to by the President rectifying these lacunae and raising the possibility of power and sovereignty being returned to the people. There exists only the “possibility” at this time because unless the people on the ground actually utilise the new powers to begin making and executing decisions addressing their concrete circumstances, the top-down power relations will remain intact. Leaving citizens at the lowest level as objects rather than subjects who can chart their own courses of action.
It is only when this process has been well on its way that the “possibility” will be transformed into a “reality” and there will be a rebirth of the original  promised democracy in Guyana.

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