A warning to Guyanese not to be deluded by declarations of economic growth or talk of transformation

The best way to write a book is one chapter at a time. David Granger’s The Public Interest: Good governance and social justice is a compendium of elegant essays written one at a time, each of which was published previously but which retains a refreshing relevance today. The essays are knitted together by their common theme – social justice.

Social justice is concerned with protecting human rights, promoting greater equality and ensuring fairness in economic and social relations. Social justice, in other words, addresses the manner in which society is organized – determining who gets what, why and when – and the manner in which citizens are treated by state institutions be they the executive, the judiciary or the law enforcement agencies.

The book’s subject is the perilous state of social justice which existed under the People’s Progressive Party Civic’s (PPP/C) pre-2015 administrations. The deterioration of social justice in the country during that period is believed to have contributed, in no small measure, to the victory of A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Coalition at the General and Regional Elections in 2015. The PPP/C in its Manifesto, published in the run-up to those elections, ironically, had promised “social justice for all.”

Granger delivers a scathing rebuke of the PPP/C’s stewardship over the affairs of the country. He notes the administrations’ palpable failure to protect citizens and provide them with more dignified living and working conditions.

The PPP/C had bragged about what it termed “…the dawn of new era” when it entered office after the General and Regional Elections in 1992. This book, however, paints the PPPC’s rule as nightmare when it comes to ensuring social justice.

Guyana’s development during the period 1992-2015 was constrained by the absence of social justice. The country’s GDP and per capita income may have improved but poverty levels were high, police excesses were pronounced, social ills predominated and the country was polarized and divided.
This is not Granger’s assessment alone. The World Bank’s “The Guyana Development Policy Review: The Challenges of Governance and Growth 2003, released four year’s into Bharrat Jagdeo’s presidency, revealed that social welfare indicators remained well-below those of other Latin American and Caribbean countries. The ‘Policy Review’ observed that Guyana ranked 92nd out of 175 countries in the UNDP’s “Index of Human Development in 2001: Making new technologies work for human development.”

The book’s more than thirty essays have attractive and arresting titles, the product of Granger’s keen mind and sharp wit. The essays cover a wide range of topics, including human-trafficking, indigenous people’s development, inequality, motherhood, narcotics-trafficking, police excesses, poverty, public education and public health. The book’s essays include: Law West of Fort Zeelandia, which examines the state of geographic inequality between the hinterland and the coastland, beyond the Essequibo River; Death in the North West, set against the backdrop of a serious outbreak of gastroenteritis in the Barima-Waini Region in March 2013 which the book describes as a “…ticking public health

time bomb”;

Poor people, excoriates the PPP/C’s failure to protect the poor or to provide them with opportunities to enjoy a good life; The miracle of motherhood, has little to do with childhood but much to do with the difficulties and hardships to which mothers were subjected, under successive PPP/C administrations; Missing Amerindian Girl Syndrome, rejects the PPP/C’s denial of the extent of human-trafficking in the hinterland; Linden and the Ogden Tables dissects the Linden Commission of Inquiry into the deaths of persons who the Police shot and killed on the Mackenzie-Wismar Bridge; National narcosis, establishes the connection between transnational narcotics-trafficking

and gun-running;

Narcostatehood, makes out a case for Guyana, under the PPP/C administrations, to be considered as a narco-state; and, Sinking ship leaves rat assesses the possible outcome of the People’s Progressive Party’s 30th Congress which, according to the book, was beset by internal rifts, rivalries and factionalism at the time.

Granger is unsparing in his criticisms of the PPP/C. He writes with the passion of a man who believes that a grave injustice had been inflicted on the people of his country by uncaring and unproficient administrations. The underlying message of the book is that social justice will remain elusive unless there is good governance. The key to good governance is enlightened public policy.
Granger, in this book, again belabours the point that government falters when public policy fails. He is not singular in this view, iterating that, at that time, the World Bank had described Guyana as suffering from “a crisis of governance”. That crisis, he notes, is pervasive; it exists, he writes “…at the national level in the National Assembly and at the local level in the systematic debilitation of the municipalities and local government organs and the imposition of undemocratic interim management committees.”

The structure of the book makes for easy reading by anyone but it is also limiting. Written as a series of essays on specific issue-areas and held together by the common theme of social justice, the book does not offer much in the form of solutions, other than to espouse the need for improved public policy. The reader, therefore, is left to second-guess the approach to be adopted by any new administration given the opportunity to hold office.

The book serves as a warning to Guyanese not to be deluded by declarations of economic growth or talk of transformation. The ultimate test of development resides in improvements in citizens’ welfare. The quality and scope of social justice remain the best gauge of the extent to which a government is responsive to the people’s needs.

The Public Interest: Good governance and social justice is a chilling recounting of the PPP/C’s sordid record of governance during its 23 years in office from 1992 to 2015. The book is a prompt for Guyanese to be vigilant in ensuring that social justice is not again shunted to the backburners of national development.

The history of Guyanese politics can be viewed as a quest for social justice. Guyana, as the former Guyanese President noted, was born “…a broken nation” that requires healing the wounds of social division and discord more than mere political reconciliation. At the heart of the healing process has to be the demand for greater social justice.

(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this site.)