Sat | Aug 8, 2020

Orrette Fisher | Jamaica needs oil reserves

Published:Sunday | March 15, 2020 | 12:25 AM

Guyana held general and regional elections on March 2, 2020. At the time of writing, the results of the elections have still not been determined due to a dispute in relation to the tallying of votes in region four, the largest of the 10 regions.

The two major parties are claiming victory, and the matter has been referred to the country’s High Court. The outcome should be known by the time this column is published. A speedy resolution is required for the country to move forward.

Guyana’s Electoral System

Guyana, although situated on the South American continent, has close ties to the Caribbean, is a member of CARICOM, and is the only English-speaking country on the continent. Despite its geographic location, it shares a number of similarities with Jamaica, which almost seems uncanny.

Like Jamaica and several other Caribbean and Commonwealth countries, Guyana inherited the Westminster form of government from the British. Guyana has since made two significant changes to its system of governance.

First, Guyana decided to move away from the first-past-the-post system as exists in Jamaica to a system of proportional representation. Under the first-past-the-post system, political parties field individual candidates in each constituency. The candidate who receives the most votes wins the seat. The party winning the most constituencies then forms the government even if it did not receive the majority of the votes overall. In fact, it is possible for a party to earn the majority of the votes and not win the most seats.

The proportional representation system, which can and does have differing versions, essentially seeks to award seats to parties depending on the proportion of the popular votes received.

For example, a third party in Jamaica could theoretically win 20 per cent of the popular vote and not win a seat.

Under proportional representation such a party would be guaranteed some seats. In Guyana, the people don’t vote for candidates. Instead they vote for parties. Although a list of candidates is presented on nomination day, the names do not appear on the ballot, only the name of the party. The parties are assigned seats based on the proportion of votes garnered. The party with the most votes is awarded the most seats and the presidency.

Second, Guyana took the decision to remove the Queen as head of state 50 years ago on February 23, 1970. On that date, Guyana became a republic and has as its head of state a president

Like most other countries in the Commonwealth, it is dominated by two major political parties, with third parties struggling to gain a foothold. Like in Jamaica, the status quo is reinforced since only the two major parties are accommodated at the electoral commission. In the Caribbean, this is not unique to Jamaica and Guyana.

While the Jamaica Labour Party and the People’s National Party dominate the political landscape, dividing the country along political lines, in Guyana, A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance for Change (APNU/AFC) and the People’s Progressive Party/ Civic (PPP/C) are the dominant parties with support divided along ethnic lines. The APNU/AFC is supported mainly by Afro-Guyanese and the PPP/C by Indo-Guyanese. There are six different ethnic groups in Guyana with the two largest being of Indian and African descent.

Similarities between Jamaica and Guyana

The social issues and politics are very similar to what exists in Jamaica. If one should listen to radio programmes and the campaign speeches, with the exception of the accent, one could be somewhere in Jamaica instead of in Guyana.

The issues that translate into campaign promises relate to better roads/infrastructure, the cleaning of drains, healthcare, education, and jobs. Ironically, one bauxite company, which also operates in Jamaica laid off some workers in January 2020, and following protests by the trade unions, eventually closed its doors. Other common social issues include complaints about rising crime rates and the public transportation system, which is dominated by minibuses and taxis. The environmentalists appeal for the public to display civic pride, but like in Jamaica, some citizens ignore the plea.

The improper disposal of plastic bottles and bags, again similar to the case in Jamaica, has led to the decision to ban single use plastic bags. The ban is scheduled to take effect in January 2021.

The agency responsible is seeking to engage stakeholders and get support and buy-in, but as is expected, there are those who don’t support the ban. Similar to capital Kingston in Jamaica, stalls and cook shops are all around the city of George Town as Guyanese try to identify independent ways to make a living.

The people are hard working, industrious, with tourism making a significant contribution to the economy. The exchange rate is stable despite being over 200 Guyanese dollars to the US dollar.

Guyanese are proud of the achievements of their sporting heroes. The different sporting associations, as is the case in Jamaica, solicit the assistance of government and the private sector to make it happen. Their Independence celebration is huge, and they turn out in numbers. It is colourful and bright. There are lots of cultural presentations and unique craft items available to tourists and locals.

Despite whatever else one might feel, one cannot miss the sense of hope and optimism surging through the atmosphere. One gets a sense that something big is about to happen. There is a feeling of great hope. This sense of optimism, one can surmise, is a result of the discovery of huge oil reserves off the coast of Guyana. Something that can have a positive impact on the country’s economy in the years ahead. Whichever party wins the election will have the responsibility of leading Guyana into what is expected to be a bright future.

For Jamaica to exude a similar feeling of hope may be something big needs to happen. Maybe Jamaica needs to discover huge reserves of oil, and possibly, gold.

Orrette Fisher is a former director of elections. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com