All is not lost

Stabroek News
March 27, 2001

In its press release Saturday the PNC/Reform said that as "a responsible political party that is committed to the proper representation of its supporters (it) calls for immediate dialogue on the fundamental issues, which are of deep concern to a major sector of our society". It also said that traditional voting patterns had not changed significantly and "this reality has serious implications for the future governance of Guyana".

On a television programme the next day some of the younger leaders of the party strongly supported the call for dialogue and discussed some of the important issues ranging from land allocation, to the awarding of contracts. Ms Debbie Backer supported the principle put forward in a Stabroek News editorial last Friday that the minority should have a real stake in the decision-making processes of governance.

The PPP/Civic has on more than one occasion previously indicated a willingness for dialogue. The door is therefore open in principle and hopefully the president-elect will put dialogue on the table once he has been sworn in.

There are two obvious problems. First, there are destabilising elements around who are consistently and deliberately spreading false reports that can disrupt any attempt at a rational process. The chaos that followed the court case yesterday, for example, resulted from a report that proved entirely untrue that four men had been shot. There are other false reports designed to spread chaos and confusion. It will be hard to make progress once these persist.

But more fundamentally, the process of dialogue must be structured and there must be goodwill on both sides. The dialogue that followed the Herdmanston Accord was desultory and non productive. A clear agenda should be settled, very senior people must be involved, it must be fully realised that a real investment of time and energy is needed to talk through and thrash out difficult issues and arrive at viable compromises. In other words the process of dialogue is not easy, as experience in South Africa and Northern Ireland, to name just two cases,has clearly shown.

Three qualities are needed if the dialogue is to succeed. First, the persons chosen on both sides must be fully briefed with the opportunity for quick consultation with the highest levels of their parties. Secondly,there must be no arrogance or bullying. Discussions must take place in good faith and with goodwill. There must be a willingness to examine issues raised in depth and intelligently. Thirdly, quality time must be invested, possibly with the help of one or more facilitators from civil society, and the process must be approached with a high level of commitment.

Dialogue offers no panacea but again, as South Africa and Northern Ireland have shown it can produce results and help define the way forward . We should give it a try.