June 22, 1999
There have been some developments this year that can be seen amidst all our difficulties as positive trends. The most recent of these has been the important role played by civil society as mediators in the talks to settle the strike. This group of competent and committed persons from business, legal, trade union and church circles has helped to bring the parties together and find compromise solutions in the long and tough negotiations. It has been a useful role which has given an insight into the role civil society can play by the contribution of its skills and experience. It also lends support to the view that civil society can play a role in mediating the dialogue between the two political parties and helping to avoid the procedural and other setbacks that have plagued it for so long and often seem trivial to outside observers. Civil society injects a rational, independent voice in the proceedings which can help issues to be seen more clearly or in a different light and can reduce the level of inter-party hostility and distrust which trends to make even relatively simple problems quite hard to resolve.
Another positive development has been the eventual setting up of the Constitution Reform Commission after a one year delay. This has been the most significant achievement of the Herdmanston Accord so far. It has given the political parties the valuable experience of working together outside the immediate framework of parliament where they do collaborate from time to time in committees. It has also introduced elements of civil society again as a vital part of the process thus broadening the focus and highlighting the fact that political parties are in the final analysis merely representatives of different groups in the society and must take into account and respond to the legitimate interests of civil organisations. They must not be guided solely by their own perceived strategic and tactical requirements. There is thus considerable expectation that the recommendations that will emerge from the Commission will transcend narrow party interests and will reflect a broader concern for the interests of the nation.
Another positive trend has ben the increased energy shown by government in dealing with potential investors. This has undoubtedly since l992 been their greatest failing, a combination of ambivalence, inexperience, indecisiveness and a lack of bureaucratic back up. At last the penny seems to have dropped that securing investment is hard work, that the groundwork has to be done (clear investment codes, effective agencies which are allowed to do their jobs) and that every effort must be made to sort out the various problems and bottlenecks investors face. At the root of so many of the society's problems is the stagnation and lack of investment and economic development over the last thirty years. The resulting poverty has led to the widespread social distress and alienation and leaves no room for manoeuvre. Without increased investment the meagre economic pie will continue to be the source of strife. No deal is perfect and in a country that has been down and out for so long the bargaining power is not as strong as it might be but whatever the armchair critics may say the investments that were secured by the Hoyte administration under the Economic Recovery Programme have at the very least provided jobs, revenue for the government and increased economic activity. It was a start that should have been capitalised on. We need to increase economic activity vastly to lay the basis for a level of prosperity that will make our problems seem less desperate.
We must learn from all that we have endured, the reckless, adventurist policies that destroyed the economy, the opportunism, the racial division still so often belied by the friendly relations on the ground. If we do learn and become wiser and more mature, anything is still possible.
A © page from: Guyana: Land of Six Peoples