Creating a climate of goodwill

Stabroek News
April 4, 2001

At a time like this it is desirable to make gestures and take initiatives that can create goodwill. With that in mind, it would be a mistake to re-appoint Dr Roger Luncheon as Head of the Presidential Secretariat for two reasons. First, it is in principle undesirable that a politician be the head of the public service and secondly, the People's National Congress Reform (PNC/R) has identified as one of the initial issues for resolution the de-politicisation of the public service. The appointment would be wrong in principle and it will send a negative signal. As a senior member of the People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Dr Luncheon should be given a ministerial portfolio, perhaps that of health. A senior civil servant should be promoted to the top post.

Some of the other issues identified by Mr Desmond Hoyte, leader of the PNC/R, in his statement on Friday night can also surely be readily accommodated. These include working out a joint programme for the revival of the bauxite industry, an inquiry into police brutality, setting up programmes to tackle poverty and marginalised communities and to provide jobs for the unemployed and the provision of basic infrastructure for deprived villages. The PNC/R (and perhaps the other political parties in parliament) can surely be quickly involved in committees to discuss the setting up of these programmes. The goodwill created would be enormous as it would make it clear that these issues are being taken seriously and addressed urgently.

There are still concerns about the voters list. Informed sources attribute the mistakes made largely to incorrect information from the field staff and partly to incorrect data entry, some of this caused by extra staff recruited in the late stages when time pressure was acute and who could not be vetted. They rule out any chance of systemic fraud as the Information Systems Department (ISD) of the Guyana Elections Commission which was in charge of the production of the voters list and ID cards had two managers, one who was there before and one nominated by the opposition. The two were jointly in full control. Above this was the Technical Oversight Committee (TOC) which contained a nominee from the PPP/C and one from the PNC/R, two from the donor community and two from civil society. They supervised the work of the ISD and reported to the commission. Furthermore, two members of the Commission, one PPP/C and one PNC/R, met the ISD and the TOC each week to review activities and to plan.

At that level, therefore, there was no room for trickery or manipulation. Mistakes were made at lower levels, primarily it is felt due to clerical incompetence in the field but there were also errors in data entry and some of that could have been deliberate.

The data has been frozen with a view to an audit. It is not possible to say at this stage how many mistakes were made and how many people were disenfranchised. Hopefully, the audit will give some idea of this. The level of voter turnout was however exceptionally high and it has been suggested that those affected are below half of one percent of the voters.

The results by individual polling station will hopefully be published before the end of this week. The order of the Chief Justice should also be complied with before then. One would hope that the opposition would then feel ready to formally acknowledge the government and that this would immediately be followed by an invitation to dialogue. In the meantime, it is obviously desirable that the new President should keep his options as open as possible, that both sides try to lower the political temperature and to make no provocative statements, and that efforts in certain sections of the media to continue to cultivate ethnic hatred and discontent be discontinued.