Dialogue is not enough, power sharing is needed

Stabroek News
July 23, 2001

Dear Editor,

Not for the first time since the beginning of the Hoyte- Jagdeo dialogue the PNC has cause to accuse the PPP of acting in bad faith. The most recent accusation comes in the wake of a new broadcasting regulation regime announced by Minister Sam Hinds.

An angry Mr Hoyte has advised TV owners to disregard the Sam Hinds' rules, and he charged the government with a lack of coordination between its right and left hands. He dubbed the Hinds rules an affront to the dialogue process that has mandated a committee to look at some of the very issues addressed by Mr Hinds' rules. The President has since said that the Hinds' rules are an interim arrangement, but this announcement has not stopped the suspension of the Jagdeo-Hoyte dialogue.

This apparent confusion is partly the product of political fooling-around by the PPP and the PNC as they attempt to avoid the most credible proposal aimed at tackling our racial competition for power and stopping the country's slide towards another dictatorship-POWER SHARING. But it is also the product of naked political manouever and brinkmanship. We are witnessing a continuation of the PPP-PNC power struggle that will eventually set Africans and Indians at each other's throat again in the not too distant future.

Here is my reading of the game. The PNC is tactically using the dialogue to do things: a) to shake off the rabble-rouser image and show that the party is statesmanlike; and b) expose the PPP's clear intention to frustrate any form of broad-based governance.

But if the PNC's participation in the dialogue is tactical, then the PPP's response is also tactical - a case of Tricky and Trawny. The seemingly non-coordination between the left and right hands of the PPP is a manouever.

On the one hand the PPP is using the dialogue to neutralize the PNC by bogging it down with meaningless discussion over issues, which, though important, are peripheral to the real problems that have strangled Guyana these past five decades -racial rivalry, one party-one race governance, and the economic and political marginalization of the vast majority of Guyanese. On the other hand the PPP is utilizing the political space gained by the dialogue to consolidate its hold on the government and press on with its agenda, a process that is facilitated by that party's parliamentary majority and its control of the presidency.

It is clear then that despite rhetoric to the contrary, both the PPP and the PNC regard the dialogue as a game. The PPP in particular has shown its hand. This is borne out by statements from the President and Prime Minister. The former said very clearly a few weeks ago that the findings of the Thomas/Benn Bauxite Committee are not binding on his government. And the Prime Minister in his recent reply to Mr Hoyte says that his enactment of the broadcasting rules is just the discharging of the PPP's election promise.

So, there you have it -perfect coordination between the right hand and the left hand. These two parties continue to reduce this country's plight to political brinkmanship. In the face of escalating poverty, violence, social degradation, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and universal hopelessness, they continue to preoccupy themselves with political games and power play.

Given the present rules of governance, the PPP is not wrong in treating as of secondary importance the committees set up by the dialogue. The PPP is the government based on the winner-take-all system. The committees are not constitutional mechanisms, or products of a political agreement sanctioned by statutes; they are the products of political manouever. The committees can come up with what they want, so long as it does not fit in with the government's agenda, the President and his government are free to ignore them.

A country can only have one government at a time. The question is: who ultimately makes the decisions --the elected government or the committees? Mr Hoyte and Mr Jagdeo, who both embrace the Westminster model of government, know that it is the constitutional government that ultimately makes the decisions. If the PNC wants its views to carry equal weight in the decision making of the government, then it has to be in the government. You can't want to govern without the instruments of governance.

Mr Hoyte's charge of "bad faith" is puzzling. There was no good faith to begin with: neither from the PPP nor the PNC. Any good faith dialogue must address the issues of racial insecurity and undemocratic governance, which is the twin cause of our present crises. Towards this end the following are crucial.

First, there must be equitable distribution of the decision-making responsibilities in the form of power sharing in both the Executive branch (cabinet) and the Legislative branch (Parliament), and also at the regional, municipal, and village levels. In the latter regard a return to the Village Council system is critical as it puts the governance of people's day-to-day affairs where it belongs-in the hands of the people.

Enough has been written in these columns about the potential of power sharing for helping to settle our racial and other tribal differences, but it must be stressed that while power sharing is partly about systems of governance, it is more importantly about saving our country from total disintegration. Our people, of all races have shared the same physical space, some cultural traits, and the same history for the last 160 years. But for us to share the same destiny, we must share in the shaping of that destiny by together making the crucial decisions that inform that destiny.

Let the decisions about how we fight HIV/AIDS, poverty, and ignorance be collectively made. By collective, I mean all the political representatives of the people at the central level and also the people in their villages and towns. And these must be enshrined in the constitution. Instead of a gentleman's agreement, we want a genuine people's agreement that is binding on all. This is what power sharing and democracy are about.

Second, apart from the large political issues, any good faith dialogue between leaders must come up with immediate programmes to arrest poverty, illiteracy, HIV/ AIDS and other health epidemics, and police brutality.

My challenge to Guyanese of all races is to convert your seeming hopelessness into a real revolution. Not the kind where you burn tyres, beat and rob people of other races, and defend and worship leaders who abuse you- that's foolish revolution.

Stop fighting each other and fight for a shared existence based on political and economic equality. They are trying to tell you that sharing your government is bad, because they want the government for themselves. Don't be fooled. Real power sharing is one of the answers to our problems. If there is real power sharing Mr Jagdeo cannot agree with Mr Hoyte on one thing and then do something else; contracts will be equitably awarded; jobs will be awarded on merit; there will be no need for Africans and Indians to fight and stability will return; and investors will be more confident to invest and bring more jobs.

We need a revolution that targets the obstacles to hope and empowerment- racial insecurity, competition and animosity; poverty and ignorance; and political and economic marginalization. Don't be afraid. Don't worry about lack of leadership. Begin the revolution in your communities by tackling your own immediate problems and leadership will arise from your ranks. We have to find a way to live in peace and with respect for each other.

Yours faithfully,

David Hinds