In the past, this system (with or without its colonial adaptation) has been invariably accepted as the goal towards which all Guyanese must strive. Perhaps the absence of any independent analysis of the suitability of this system to our local conditions has been caused by our lack of choice in the matter. The imposition of this system from above and its distortion to suit our colonial status have had certain undesirable results.
a) People have become accustomed to concentrate attention upon constitutional niceties rather than on the more important aspects of a constitutional system – such as whether or not it conforms to the economic and political structure of the country.
b) They have come to regard Great Britain (either through ignorance or choice) as the fount of constitutional wisdom, and the Commonwealth as the only rewarding field for constitutional precedents.
c) Agitation and dissatisfaction, such as has existed, has been confined to demanding the removal of the colonial “distortions and impurities” which have corrupted the system as practised in Great Britain. (The response to P.R. should be considered in this light).
- It is not suggested that any constitution alone can cure our problems – but perhaps we should stop and consider whether the constitution that can reflect and encompass our political and social needs can be created by a dogmatic reliance on the precepts of the British Parliamentary System. For instance, the concept of the President under a Republican constitution on the British Parliamentary model is completely different from the Presidential concept as recently applied in Ghana and Tanganyika, and both of these are again very different from the Brazilian model.
It may be appropriate at this stage (concerning ‘offering’ Burnham the presidency) to mention that an offer of the Presidency under the first system to a powerful political opponent is an insult and under the second system a complete surrender.
- Surely part of the reason for the breakdown of the constitutional conference lay in the limitations of the constitutional terms of reference of the delegates (whether these limitations were tactically necessary or not is here irrelevant). This leads to the kind of political horse-trading that merely divides up personal and administrative power but achieves no framework within which our social and economic problems can be solved.
- One of the first and most important necessities an independent Guyana will have to face is the need for a drastic increase in the national surplus available for economic investment. This alone can provide the necessary foundation upon which, with the assistance of external aid, we can modernise our economic structure. How is this surplus to be raised? By financial stringency, using the instrument of taxation? February 1962 is a recent reminder of what happens when a Government without sufficient national support attempts this. In any case, this form of “fiscal revolution” has its inherent limitations particularly in an underdeveloped agriculturally-based country such as ours.
- An alternative method (as practised with varying degrees of compulsion in socialist countries) is by means of levies on the agricultural sector – the only sector of any great importance in an underdeveloped country. Apart from the difficulties created by our subsistence agriculture (rice) which does not allow for much of a collectible surplus, any attempt, however moderate, to put into effect the policy of “primitive accumulation” will create a serious, and probably fatal, crisis for the present Government, depending as it does almost entirely on rural support. Obviously, this cannot be attempted by a Government faced with a hostile urban population which will view with glee any difficulties created by such a policy. Even the use of the machinery of a military dictatorship (which is not desirable anyway) will not suffice without the support of some strategic section of the population. The situation has developed to the point where, without some relaxation, it is most unlikely that any concession to the urban population will win their support quickly and effectively enough to offset the hostile peasant reaction to such a policy.
- Nor is it possible in a short-term sense, to ‘do nothing’ economically to alter the present agricultural – industrial imbalance. Apart from the urgent need for economic development and reform, this policy inevitably leads to increased tension. Urban hostility to the Government was partly caused by the feeling of the urban Afro-Guyanese that the present development programme is racially biased against their interests, being disproportionately balanced in favour of the agricultural sector (drainage and irrigation, land development etc.). Whether the programme is in fact biased against the industrial sector . . . (and thus against the urban population) is an arguable point and depends on many factors. What is certain is that the over-emphasis on rice production in the actual operation of developed lands provided dangerous evidence of the Government’s tendency to pander to its rural supporters.
- Thus, the dilemma exists: to preserve the present emphasis leads to increased hostility on the part of the urban electorate; and any radical change of emphasis towards industrialisation would necessitate changes in and impositions upon the rural population (socialisation of agricultural sector, increased contribution from farmers etc.) that the present Government cannot undertake. Were a party with urban support to achieve power the resulting situation would simply be the other side of the same coin.
- The inability of any Government to plan and execute the much-needed programme of social and economic reform is the most tragic result of the present division.
- A constitutional solution to the existing political differences cannot be achieved by the mere swapping of powers of appointment and granting of limited vetoes. The conflict has passed beyond that stage. If any acceptable solution exists (and it is quite possible that the point of no return has been reached) then it must rest on the basis of a recognition of the power positions (racial and geographical as well as political) of both groups, and express these positions in terms of basic representative strength. On the other hand, (because many of the present divisions are irrelevant to our economic main problems) any such solution must avoid becoming a permanent structure. The objections to P.R. centre around these points:a) that it would constitutionally entrench the present racio-cultural divisions, andb) it would avoid a solution of our economic difficulties by leading to the creation of weak governments based on political bargaining and horse-trading rather than agreement on any firm economic programme.
However, the proponents of P.R. have in their favour the realistic argument that the present electoral divisions fail adequately to reflect the real strength of the urban population and therefore lead to the exacerbation of ethnic grievances. Can a solution be found that reflects and satisfies these viewpoints? Perhaps it lies in the mutual revision of the existing constituencies on the basis of:
a) First past the post
b) Equal weight being given to rural and urban areas with the riverain areas being regarded as separate entities.