A rational climate

Stabroek News
June 24, 2001

Yesterday a letter [ please note: link provided by LOSP web site ] from PPP General Secretary Donald Ramotar was published in our newspaper. It took the PNC to task for "attacking the police force, particularly the special force which they, while in government, created to fight crime." Mr Ramotar suggested that the main opposition party was criticising the police as a "cover-up" for the criminal acts which took place after the March 2001 election, and for which they must shoulder responsibility. The PNC's history, he said, was one "filled with violence, electoral fraud... and various shameful practices," and the party had not truly reformed. The General Secretary noted his objection to the description 'extra judicial' in reference to police killings, and said that this should really be applied to what the PNC did in the case of Walter Rodney, etc. He ended by urging the police not to be deterred by the "PNC's vicious attacks."

This letter is not good news. First it overlooks the fact that it is not just the PNC which is disturbed by extra-judicial killings on the part of the police (Mr Ramotar's asseveration that that the term is a misnomer is disingenuous); many citizens are. In any case, just because the PNC makes a criticism does not mean ipso facto that it has no validity. Every criticism must be assessed on its merits.

Secondly, the letter carries the implication, almost certainly unintentional, that unauthorized police killings are a viable and acceptable means of controlling crime. They are not. Extra-judicial killings on the part of the law enforcement bodies will not solve the crime problem; a high rate of apprehension and conviction of criminals will. And that requires a more sophisticated approach than the police have been capable of for many years.

Thirdly, Mr Ramotar leaves the unfortunate impression (again almost certainly unintentional) that where the issue of crime is concerned the governing party may have fallen victim to the dangerous assumption that the ends justify the means. In an era where good governance is the watchword, that is hardly an image that the PPP/C should be in a hurry to project.

It might be added, that whatever sins the PNC has been guilty of in the past (and those are no secret), and however the party employed the security forces during its years in office, it cannot justify abuses on the part of the police now. The whole idea is to have a return to the rule of law, not a continuation of wrongdoing under a different dispensation.

There has been too much flak zooming across the political divide in the last week and a half. This is dangerous, because it creates the kind of climate which is inhospitable to the dialogue process. And at this point in time we need the dialogue process above all else.

The present rise in temperature began with an ill thought-out press release from the PPP/C on the origins of the Ministry of Housing fire, which by some leap of the imagination it attributed to the PNC walking out of Parliament.

While the fire may have been the result of arson, the public certainly has not been provided with any evidence to date to eliminate the hypothesis that it could have been accidental. A host of questions would have to be answered before any conclusions on that score could be arrived at. This is not the time for wild, premature allegations. The rational approach is first to collect the evidence, and then present it to the population.

Following this indiscretion, the PNC inevitably had some accusations of its own about corruption, etc. Where the question of the house lots in Sophia is concerned, it at least provided a list of 244 names of people who have allegedly paid for a lot, but who have not received one. Minister Baksh has said that a trace would be done in relation to these. That is the reasonable approach. If evidence is supplied, no matter by whom, check it out.

Once the parties start using press releases, media briefings and the like as their main conduit of communication with each other, we will be in imminent danger again. Last week supplies enough evidence that political rhetoric and accusations are again being substituted for real debate. The dialogue between President Jagdeo and Mr Hoyte had been proceeding in a different spirit, and so far it has brought some progress. It is the duty of the party machines not to undermine that interchange by intemperate statements. Every time they do so, they strengthen the hand of those on the other side who are opposed to the whole dialogue process.