Black Empowerment: A Neglected Aspect of Governance

Black Empowerment: A Neglected Aspect of Governance

Photo : David Hinds

Well known political analyst and Working People's Alliance (WPA) executive member, David Hinds, has chastised his APNU-AFC government for not doing anything significant at promoting Black empowerment. In his apparent frustration, Hinds has also described the Granger administration as “visionless.” As a strong advocate of his people's cause for recognition, justice and development, Hinds says that the coalition government is performing below expectation, as did its predecessor, the PPP. Could Hinds’ position have any empirical validation?  

Hinds contends that the PPP government had done nothing significant to promote Black empowerment either. However, this position has been challenged by the PPP whose leadership claims that at no time in the history of Guyana have Blacks been better off economically, and in terms of wielding power at the non-executive level, than during the PPP period of governance.  

Empowerment is the process of giving authority and power to people to improve their material and social condition through providing them with skills, resources, opportunities, as well as fostering  attitudinal changes, such as self-reliance, industry, sacrifice, deferred gratification and accountability. Hinds in effect is saying that the coalition has not been doing enough on education, training, housing, job creation, and skill development for Blacks. He indicates, for example, that capital for business startups is not readily available to Blacks.

What does the evidence reveal? The Granger administration’s move to grant 10 youth with loans of $(G) 500,000 to $(G)1,000,000 for business startup, is just one aspect of the empowerment process.  Another aspect is the Granger government’s plan to build 8,000 houses in the next 3 years. Skeptics doubt whether this goal could be achieved given that for the past 3 years the government has been able to build only 300 houses. They also mention that the past PNC government’s performance in this area has been dismal. The Burnham FHC plan allowed for the building of 65,000 “housing units” between 1972 and 1976, but only of 4,167 units (or 6.5 percent) were built. And those were concentrated in Georgetown and in rural Black communities. Nevertheless, those were important steps towards empowerment. 

David Hinds does not criticize the government because he dislikes it; rather, he wants the coalition to excel; to perform at a higher level, partly because of his fear that the PPP may recapture political power at the 2020 polls. He is fearful that the Alliance for Change (AFC) cannot bring any significant amount of votes to the coalition as their electoral support has dissipated. He is also fearful that an important segment of the Black and Indian vote would not be swayed by ethnic preference at the polls, but rather by policy issues. He understands that the 2015 general elections had evinced enough signals of this trend. Hinds is worried about these variables as well as the fact that the Blacks constitute only 29% of the country's population.  Recent polls have shown that David’s deep fears do have an empirical base, with the coalition government having less than 38% of popular support.

It seems that Hinds also views Black empowerment against the background of the "International Decade for People of African Descent." Hinds’ indication of the coalition’s deficiency in empowerment also implies that Blacks are economically marginalized. In addition, Hinds and other Black leaders were encouraged by President Granger who, at the Cuffy 250 Forum in 2017, invited Black leaders to submit proposals to the government for their people’s advancement. Bolstered by such great expectation, Hinds has set lofty goals for Black empowerment. Does Hinds ignore the government’s contribution of over $(G) 60 million to Black groups to help promote their cause? 

What Hinds is bitter about was his perception of lack of Black “executive power” over the 23 years of PPP governance. The PPP claims that it's Cabinet was representative of the country's population and that it was not a token representation. Ministers, irrespective of race, had executive powers which they exercised. For example, Sam Hinds, apart from being the Prime Minister, had complete power over the energy sector. And when former GPHC’s Chief Executive Officer Michael Khan was dismissed by the GPHC Board, Public Service Minister Jennifer Webster intervened and restored his position. These are a just a couple of examples of independent executive decisions made by Black PPP ministers.

Hinds’ apparent pre-occupation with executive power, makes him ignore or minimize the significance of "non-executive" type of power that is wielded by his group. They (Blacks) control the army (90%), the police (75%); the civil service (65%); the state and statutory boards (70%); and the COIs (90%).  This level of disproportionate representation has been a pattern inherited by the PPP from the PNC. And there has not been any significant change over the decades. At the political level, there are various other examples of power distribution within the coalition government. There are, for example, 17 Permanent Secretaries of which 16 are of Hinds’ ethnicity. Of the 11 staff at the Bertram Collins' College for the Civil Service there is no Indian on the teaching staff. Would Hinds regard the recruitment of 1,500 persons, predominantly Blacks, into the army as a process of empowerment?

What about the militarization process through which many ex-army officers and ex-police officers are being appointed to top positions in the public service and other bodies like COIs? What about the huge increase (over 30%) in contract workers? Aren’t all these good examples of empowerment? At the subtle level, there has also been the shifting of power and resources (through tax and fiscal measures) to Hinds’ ethnic group.

Now that Hinds’ party and group are in office, empowerment for him in this context seems to be restricted to securing economic advantage for the Blacks. He should therefore be pleased that his government has allocated US$10.4 million, plus another $(US) 2 million CDB funds to revitalize, and address unemployment in predominantly 4 Black villages; namely, Ithaca (West Coast Berbice); Triumph and Buxton (East Coast Demerara); and Mocha (East Bank Demerara), which Finance Minister Winston Jordan says had been “neglected” for the past two decades. Why doesn’t Hinds see this as a significant move by the coalition government at Black empowerment?

Interestingly enough, Hinds did not comment on the nature of Black empowerment during the PNC’s 28-year rule, as if the PPP was solely responsible, if at all, for that situation. Didn’t the Burnham PNC also create the Co-op Bank and the Agriculture Development Bank to empower Blacks and to foster entrepreneurship? They had ready access to capital but mismanagement and corruption led to billions of dollars in un-recoverable losses. Not to mention the PNC’s move to implement their brand of "cooperative socialism." The PNC’s FHC (Feed, House, and Clothe) plan that was developed in 1972 did not materialize in feeding, housing, and clothing the nation by 1976. Nevertheless, it was a bold attempt at empowerment. In respect of housing,  the PNC developed that at South Ruimveldt and Melanie Damishana primarily for civil servants and PNC supporters. Weren’t these powerful moves towards empowerment? And didn’t the PPP continue with housing development that benefitted Blacks as well as all other ethnic groups?

The PPP claims that they had allocated over 100,000 subsidized housing lots to all ethnic groups. Apparently Hinds had wanted the PPP to offer the occupants free houses too. Above all, wasn’t the famous co-op movement conceived as the major transformative agent to “make the small man into the real man?”

The main lesson to be derived from those projects is that there is more to it than just shifting power and resources into communities! These efforts must be accompanied by a vision and attitudinal changes, including proper accountability.                    

We suspect that Hinds believe that Indians in particular have been fully empowered and that the author of this perceived success was the PPP government. Well, that belief is delusional. Indians in businesses have worked hard, engaged their joint family, pool their resources, make sacrifices to arrive at where they are currently. They didn’t get any handouts from any government. Nothing stops Blacks and other groups from engaging in business enterprises. The Black Roundtable is a good initiative.  It must take the lead. As to farming, whatever incentives were granted by the former PNC and PPP governments (but not the Granger administration) benefitted all ethnic groups of farmers. Why should we despise a farmer or a businessperson because he had made the most out of the opportunities provided? A beautiful house or a beautiful neighborhood is created through vision, hard work, sacrifice, and deferred gratification.  Hinds wants substantially more for his community. He has to pretend that his government is not doing enough or chooses to ignore or minimize his government’s contribution in order to make his case for Black empowerment more compelling. Contrary to Hinds’ critique, we believe that his government’s approach to development and other measures has been carefully designed to achieve Black empowerment. Hinds wants the pace of empowerment to accelerate, irrespective of other contending claims on the country's resources from other segments of the population.