Guyana: The image of unity and balance
The government needs to remind itself, constantly, that it is a one seat government and that this one seat was only made possible because of the decision of the APNU and the AFC to join in a coalition to contest the elections of 2015.
The APNU needs to remind itself that while it is incontestable that it brought the most votes to the coalition that without the support of the AFC, it would not have been in government today.
It is important, from this perspective that the government continues to project a unified image. It is important that where APNU is seen, the AFC is also seen.
There is also the need to project a multi-ethnic image. The AFC helps to serve this purpose since it is believed that its presence in the coalition allowed sufficient numbers of East Indians to vote for the coalition to allow it to cross over the 50% mark and thus gain the Presidency.
The AFC acts in the interest of two groups within the coalition. The first is, as mentioned before, a small but still important, East Indian base and the second is the middle class. The visibility of the AFC within the government provides assurances to both groups that its interests are not likely to be trampled upon.
With that in mind it was most disconcerting, recently, to witness a meeting between the government and the permanent secretaries of the various government ministries. A photograph of this meeting published in the media showed only APNU persons – the President and the Minister of State – meeting with the permanent secretaries.
The question that needs to be asked is why at such an important meeting, was the AFC not present. The public service falls under the Office of the President but the fact that the AFC holds the critical ministries of public security, agriculture, business and public infrastructure plus also holds the position of Prime Minister in a coalition government, should have seen the AFC being more visible at this meeting, at least for the purposes of the public.
It’s not wise for the unity of the coalition – especially given the fractures that are taking place within the City Council at present – for the public to be presented with the image of only APNU personnel meeting with the permanent secretaries of the government.
The Prime Minister should have been present and if he was, then this should have formed part of the reporting by the government. There needs to be greater visibility of all the parties within the coalition, especially considering the narrow margin of victory at the last elections and the fact that the PPP sought to consolidate its support base during the local government elections.
The issue of ethnic balance with the leadership of the public service has always been a thorny issue. It is perhaps not representative to make a judgment based on a photograph of permanent secretaries published in our national newspapers. But it would be interesting to know if since the coalition government took office whether there has been a change in the balance within the public service at least at the levels of leadership.
Public perceptions are important.
The government recognized this when it first tabulated the names of nominees to government Boards when it came to power. That list was subject to criticism that it lacked not just ethnic but also gender balance.
The coalition corrected itself and made changes. But deep analysis was done about the changes.
It would be interesting to know what changes have been made in permanent secretaries since the new government took office. It would be good to know whether there has been a shift in terms of both gender and ethnicity.
While not representative of the complexion of the entire public service, such shifts can influence public perception and thereby opinion of the government.
This is all the more reason why greater attention has to be paid by the government to its public image. There is no need to resort to the sort of disgraceful “photoshop job” that was done on a picture of Easter Monday.
It requires instead that the government continuously projects an image of unity and balance – politically, ethnically and in terms of gender.
The challenge, of course, is that you are not quite sure where some AFC leaders stand. Some of them are now closer to the APNU than they are to their own party.