Guyana - between a rock And a hard place at 35...

Guyana Chronicle
May 27, 2001

AS GUYANA marks the 35th anniversary of political independence this weekend, the Guyanese people could only be earnestly yearning for the peace and stability so essential to overcome the hurdles to peace and socio-economic progress.

The country's new Minister of Public Service Management, Dr. Jennifer Westford, making her debut appearance at an annual meeting of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), told the hundreds of assembled delegates in St. Lucia last week:

"Guyana has been caught between the proverbial rock of a challenging international economic environment and a hard place of an unstable domestic political climate. The political situation has deteriorated sharply, especially in the aftermath of the general elections of 1997 and 2001..."

She did not have to explain to her audience the source of the problem. The delegates - among them Prime Ministers, Ministers of Finance, top officials of Central Banks, representatives of the donor and diplomatic communities - are quite familiar with the post-elections politics of destablisation of the People's National Congress.

But she did make the self-evident point that, "as everyone knows, political stability is a 'sine qua non' for the attraction of investment and private capital that are the fuels of growth in the index of investor confidence..."

I imagine that we will hear much more about this when the Minister of Finance, Saisnarine Kowlessar, presents the 2001 budget by mid next month.

Mr. Desmond Hoyte, the politician whose party has been very much in the forefront of disruptive, divisive politics that have so deeply hurt the country's growth and stability, would have returned to Guyana long before then to hear for himself what good or bad news the Finance Minister has to tell the nation in his budget presentation.

Hoyte left for New York last week, following the sixth "dialogue" meeting with President Bharrat Jagdeo, who had returned home earlier in the week from his trip to Toronto, Canada, where he addressed Guyanese at an event to celebrate this country's 35th independence anniversary.

The PNC/R leader, according to local media reports, is now in the 'Big Apple' to participate in one of those events of the 'Federation for World Peace', an organisation whose activities very much reflect the philosophy of the controversial Korean religious/social activist, Rev. Moon.

It is to be hoped that talking about or meditating for peace at the FWP's symposium would have some positive effect on the PNC/R leader in his ongoing dialogue with Jagdeo.

'Bad Faith"? When a party takes to street demonstration to protest the law from taking its course in relation to charges instituted by the police against controversial television talk show hosts, it is clearly sending a wrong message to the very people who are being called upon to refrain from resorting to unlawful acts that impact on racial harmony and peace.

In this context, it is ironical that the PNC/R should have accused the government, as it did last week, of acting in "bad faith" by deciding to move, finally, to end the sorry and dangerous state of unregulated electronic media in this country.

Self-regulation is always to be preferred to state-sanctioned regulations. But in the absence of any serious effort on the part of the owners and operators of private television to do so, a government has no alternative but to invite them to discuss the licensing and regulating of broadcasting.

What obtains at the moment in television broadcasting, is nothing less than what one Georgetown-based Guyanese correspondent has described to a gathering of regional journalists as "the wild west media".

Indeed, in their final report, the two-man Independent Media Monitoring and Refereeing Panel of Dwight Whylie and Harry Mayers, made clear that the operations of the electronic media in Guyana demands immediate regulation"

High among the priorities, said the report - which was also critical of the use of state-owned media by both PNC and PPP administrations - should be the passing by Parliament of a Copyright Act to "bring an end to the pervasively illicit use of intellectual property by most, if not all, television stations, including the state-owned GTV".

The fact that "radio monopoly" and broadcasting legislation is among issues addressed in the Jagdeo-Hoyte dialogue, and to be the subject of review by one of many committees, should not preclude the government from initiating action on its own.

Unless the government is to sacrifice its legitimate right to initiate such actions within its mandate to that of a committee born out of post-elections "dialogue politics", then Prime Minister Sam Hinds cannot be objectively faulted for requesting a meeting tomorrow with the owners and operators of "television" stations that are really pirating outfits.

The columnist and political scientist, Festus Brotherson, last week pointed to the dangers of a committee system of governance as a substitute for a freely elected government exercising its right to fulfill its mandate.

It could also be said that those who had mastered the art of frustrating the will of the electorate, and who had no qualms in stifling press freedom in the long rein of a `paramount' party, should at least recognise that the Prime Minister's requested meeting with television owners and operators does not have to wait until the problems of unregulated electronic media are first examined by one of the dialogue-created committees.

Dangerous Notion To allow such a notion to gain ground is to encourage the erosion of legitimate power derived from the freely expressed will of the electorate. Worse, when it is being played out with a party that has itself consistently rejected inclusiveness in governance.

The sooner the PPP/C government can make clear that it cannot be expected to permit the erosion of its power, the better it would be for the administration, the concept of legitimate parliamentary system of government, and the nation in general.

If not, the PPP/C should not appear surprised or disappointed whenever the PNC/R expediently chooses to accuse it of showing "bad faith" - simply because that party is not allowed to dictate or have its way.

This is not to minimise the significance or importance of the Jagdeo-Hoyte dialogue. The dialogue is absolutely essential. But it will be a political farce and tragedy should, in its effort to compromise and encourage "inclusiveness", the Jagdeo administration let governance take shape from the manoeuvrings of a bi-partisan committee system. Particularly when the PNC/R representatives in the Regional 'Demcratic' Council for Region Four can be so insensitive by its total exclusion of the PPP/C representatives from all the working committees.

What a reminder of old style `paramountcy party' politics from the party that now accuses the government acting in "bad faith"!

The PNC/R should tell that to its own loyalists on the RDC for Region Four at this time when Guyanese, across the political spectrum, reflect on the state of the nation on its 35th independence anniversary, and the ugly, painful developments since the March 19 elections.