Civil society must take the initiative

Stabroek News
December 10, 1999

The year is fast coming to a close and while the prospect for a peaceful Christmas season seems excellent, the vast majority of people are not sanguine about the calm continuing throughout the year that lies ahead.

The prospect of a general election and a referendum on a new constitution, both of which are due by January 2001, cannot but fill even the stoutest and most optimistic hearts with apprehension if the experience of past elections is a guide.

Most people believe, rightly or wrongly, that the continuation of the calm which now seems to pervade the society is dependent on a quantum improvement in the relationship between the two major parties. Critical to that improvement is a meeting between President Bharrat Jagdeo and People's National Congress leader, Desmond Hoyte. The failure of this meeting to be convened is frustrating to that section of the community which is anxious to put as much distance as it can as quickly as possible between the old and the new political dispensation.

Though questions have been raised about the value of a meeting without an agenda, because of the strong popular sentiment in favour of a Jagdeo/Hoyte meeting it is time for those who hold this view, the silent majority, to take a hand in bringing about such a meeting.

St Lucia's Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony who has responsibility for monitoring the Herdmanston Accord process believes that civil society has a role to play in restoring political stability and assisting in convening a Jagdeo/Hoyte meeting is an opportunity for them to do so. Civil society organisations have already demonstrated a capacity for brokering agreement on difficult issues in helping to resolve the public service strike earlier this year and in dealing with issues relating to the privatisation of the Guyana Electricity Corporation.

However, despite successes, the reality is that in our highly politicised and partisan society, some of the organisations are perceived to be aligned to one or the other political parties and even where they are not, their pronouncements are viewed with suspicion because it is felt that there is a hidden agenda motivated by some selfish interest. But there are a body of people who, whatever their political and other affiliations, are genuinely concerned about the future of the country and are willing to put the national interest ahead of theirs and work with those similarly disposed to move the country forward. It is these voices which must be heard now, both in the inner sanctums of their various organisations and in the available public fora. This will not be easy for the first few who begin to speak out given the partisan nature of the society. They will be exposed to criticism and pressure. The political parties themselves don't give much space to civil society and are quick to misinterpret their actions when they believe it is in their interest to do so. But given that the concerns of such persons will resonate with a substantial section of the society, there is sure to be a ground swell of support.

Both Mr Jagdeo and Mr Hoyte have been consulting widely to ascertain the views and concerns of Guyanese. By now they must have sufficient information about what these concerns are to allow them to talk in a structured way about how to address them. What is left now is for them to demonstrate the will to vindicate the trust placed in them by finding a way to meet and set about addressing the problems of the nation and charting a path which would lead to a more peaceful and prosperous Guyana.

A © page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples