Give the nation hope

Stabroek News
January 14, 2001

This is not shaping up into a good week. Apart from anything else, the expiry of the Herdmanston deadline is on Wednesday. Having said that, however, it should also be recognized that the politicians still have it in their power to transform it into the best week, politically speaking, we have all enjoyed in a long time.

One good sign - a small one, but a good sign, nonetheless - is that civil society is finding its voice on the subject of the deadline. In a statement issued last week and published in our Thursday edition, a group of private citizens and organizations called for an urgent resolution of the post-January 17 governance arrangements. The signatories wrote that they "understand and call upon all parties to recognize, that a settlement demands compromises and concessions by all participants involved in the negotiations." Another group from civil society made their appeal on Friday, which was published in our edition of yesterday.

The situation has not been helped, of course, by the public letter from St Lucia Prime Minister, Dr Kenny Anthony, to Mr Desmond Hoyte saying that in the interval between January 17 and March 19, it is the constitution and not the Herdmanston Accord or the St Lucia Statement which is the operative document. (Dr Anthony has responsibility in CARICOM for governmental matters.) By so doing, he has invited one side in this dispute to take a more uncompromising line than might otherwise have been the case, thereby making a consensus among the parliamentary parties probably more difficult to achieve, rather than less so. CARICOM should not be seen to be lending its support to any party when there is still hope that a settlement could be achieved by negotiation.

Both the major parties started out with positions which were untenable and irreconcilable. Both have moved somewhat from there, but not enough. Both are afraid that having adopted such hardline positions initially, they will be seen as weak by their supporters if they make what they deem to be too many compromises. In addition, as is usual in these situations, there is a lot of face on the line.

Compromises and concessions there have to be, however, if we are to get through the next two months peacefully, and more of them than we have had so far. However, logically speaking there first have to be further discussions between the parliamentary parties at some level. Clearly the committee set up by the President and Opposition leaders has been an abject failure, but there must be some mechanism instituted quickly, either formal or informal, possibly (but not necessarily) including members of civil society which would allow for continuing talks. As far as that aspect is concerned, the ball is probably in the Government's court.

Saving face and preserving appearances of strength are not what matter now. The interest of the nation is what matters. The time frame over which this logjam has occurred is a mere two months, and it bodes ill for our future that we cannot agree on the arrangements for so brief a period. The two major participants involved here (the two minor ones will not stand in the way of any rational agreement) have about four days to give the nation hope.

The citizens of this country do not want to be disappointed.

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