Let's start an unofficial dialogue

Stabroek News
October 23, 1999

It is painful to look back on our modern political and social history. It is a story of internecine struggle, despair, emigration, economic and social collapse and futility. At the end of the day, instead of being a relatively prosperous little country, at peace with itself and the world, which our educational and other attainments at the time of independence would certainly have made possible, we find half our population abroad, most families divided and emigration continuing, an educational system that is a shadow of its former self, a per capita income that is a fraction of that of some of our Caricom sister countries and so on.

There is little to celebrate. It all went so badly wrong. Those whose ballots did not count voted with their feet. The private sector was miniaturised and has never fully recovered. Real wages fell continuously and we are only gradually climbing back to where we were decades ago.

Some of what was lost can never be recovered, the brain drain is irreversible, the skills and experience that were lost in areas ranging from business and management to teaching and public administration are irreplaceable. We suffer every day and in so many ways from the skills we no longer have.

Is the incubus from the past so great that we cannot recover? Or can we look beyond what has happened to a future of hope and development? Can we make the act of will needed to put us on a new course, to make great achievements possible, to put hate and pettiness aside and celebrate progress? Can we have a renaissance? An intelligent young president, not enshrouded in past hatreds, is a hopeful omen. Are other changes possible that will create the opening for genuine dialogue and challenging new agendas?

There is hope and despair at the same time. There have been several false dawns. People are exhausted at hoping for a better, less contentious and more peaceful future and failing to get it. They have been frustrated for too long, many have given up the struggle and left. And despite this, despite the huge unspoken pressures for real change there has been little movement, and so many frivolous, technical objections.

There is clearly need for an ongoing informal dialogue involving members of the political parties and civil society. At these meetings, possibilities for different kinds of co-operation can be explored. The Guyana is First forum gave some idea of what can be achieved. Public sessions organised by the Guyana Human Rights Association on the constitution had also been useful. Civil society should continue to act as the catalyst and the purveyor of new ideas. The politicians have been stuck in a rut for too long and seem unable to deal constructively with each other on their own. It is important that civic groups take the initiative to foster discussion on a variety of topics, ranging from foreign policy, to housing, to the health system, to the legal system. The government should take part at the highest levels, as Mr Rohee encouragingly did in the Guyana is First forum, as well as opposition parties and a wide selection of civil society. The public sharing of ideas creates a better awareness of the various topics and their complexities. It also improves the working relations between politicians and members of civil society by teaching them to interact. It is entirely positive and useful and should be pursued and supported by the various agencies in civil society.

A © page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples