Political leaders must set example with dialogue--Cholmondeley

By Desiree Jodah
March 1, 1998
Stabroek News

"Guyanese must urgently begin speaking with each other, rather than at each other. And the essence of Guyanese political leadership is the ability to set an example in this area, whatever the tensions on the street."

So said Senior Adviser, United Nations Department of Political Affairs, Guyanese Hugh Cholmondeley, when he delivered the feature address at the Rotary Club of Georgetown's dinner to observe Rotary World Understanding and Peace Month at Le Meridien Pegasus on Friday night.
Cholmondeley contended that this was a fundamental requirement of conflict resolution. To support his argument he gave the examples of Liberia and Somalia.

"President Charles Taylor of Liberia and the other warlords who oversaw the death massacre of quarter million citizens found it necessary throughout the worst stages of the civil war to reach accommodations large and small from time to time on various issues which eventually contributed to a general resolution of the conflict. In Somalia, General Aideed, General Ali Madhi and other clan leaders found it necessary throughout the continuing Somalia crisis to establish and formalise direct lines of communication in order to seek solutions to common problems," he said.

Cholmondeley had earlier said that in the last four years Guyana was being watched by the UN as a country with the potential of falling into the category of a "country experiencing crisis". He explained that "crisis" was meant to describe a level of political, social and economic dislocation sufficient to severely compromise prospects for a sustainable future.

"This is why constitutional reform has been regarded by the leaders of both of our main parties as part of the solution to the present home crisis".

The UN adviser said that the iron rule of defining crisis was the correlation of political, economic and social factors in a manner that significantly increased the vulnerability of the victims of conflict - children, women, the aged, the infirm and other innocent civilians.

He said that some of the main economic factors affecting Guyana today include, "the dreaded El Nino, [which] is likely to contribute to a 40 per cent decline in rice cultivation and yields ... a 20 per cent decline in the sugar crop." There would, he said, be a similar shortfall in revenues due to an unfavourable exchange rate, and an estimated 50 per cent drop in the gold production expected by local miners. Barama and Sanata Textiles had retrenched workers, he continued, suppliers of agricultural machinery had repossessed equipment because of the farmers' inability to meet payments, haberdashery and clothing stores were reporting major declines in sales, and suppliers of light machinery and equipment were experiencing a 30 per cent decline in sales.

According to Cholmondeley, these factors would have a negative impact on revenues in areas such as income tax, import duties and consumption taxes.

"Lack of revenue means further downsizing of government. This means loss of jobs and family incomes, scattered throughout a population that is accustomed to perceiving every dismissal as racially or politically motivated. I don't have to go into further details to explain to this audience the contribution that economic decline makes to social tensions. The correlation is obvious. And the key to reducing social tensions in the immediate future is political dialogue," said Cholmondeley.

He noted that in the aftermath of the December 15, elections the leaders of the two main political parties had set the framework for political dialogue. He emphasised that the parties' task was now to talk within the context of the Herdmanston Accord. Cholmondeley said that in this process, civil society had almost as great a responsibility as government and opposition.

"All sectors have a vested interest in the promotion of understanding and the creation of conditions of constructive stability. The question of who won the elections is a matter of undoubted importance, and agreement now exists on the process of resolving this question. However, the questions of where Guyana is going and how it will develop remain to be answered. And they cannot be answered only by resolving the question of who won the election."

Cholmondeley noted that Guyana was not alone in this. According to him, many industralised countries including Germany were currently addressing these complex questions about the nature of political and social relations with the objective of mobilising the best technical and other skills in their societies in order to face the challenges of the twenty-first century. He ended by expressing confidence that Guyana could do the same.

According to Cholmondeley, in trying to understand the complex realities in Guyana today, it would be unhelpful for one side to demonise the other. However, he said, he could testify that since December 15, 1997 he had been going from one politician to the other and had found no demons.
He said that an understanding of differing perceptions of the same reality was an essential element of the search for positive alternatives. Cholmondeley noted that in this context, one had to accept that the political, economic and social structures of Guyana had contributed as much to its conflicts, as to its stability.