A call for dialogue

Stabroek News
March 26, 1998

In yesterday's newspaper several prominent citizens in a full page advertisement called upon the leaders of the two main parties to engage in dialogue as envisaged by the Herdmanston accord and to discuss constitutional reform. We believe their call is supported by a large number of people.

In the first place, the country is in a serious economic situation. As the Private Sector Commission pointed out to the government in its recent submission GDP growth for the first half year is likely to be well below the average of 4.6% for the year predicted by the IDB and could even be negative, the exchange rate has slipped to about US$l=G $l52 with all that portends for inflation and consumer prices, unemployment could rise, the l998 rice spring crop will decrease by 50% of the l997 figure due to the effects of El Nino and this is already affecting the cost of paddy, timber output for the first quarter is about a third of what it was in l997, gold production is down, bauxite production for the first quarter is 2l2,330 tonnes compared to 6l0,03l in l997, manufacturers have been badly hit by a fall in demand for their products partly due to a fall in purchasing power, tourism is hit and hotels are suffering, shipping ecompanies have handled 25% less cargo in the first quarter than last year and shop owners report falling sales.

This is a difficult situation, some of it due to circumstances beyond the government's control. The Commission has called for incentives for investment for the private sector, local and foreign, to stimulate investment and they have referred to the model in Trinidad. We believe the Minister of Finance should give this matter serious attention as he completes the preparation of his budget for Monday.

On the political front, the situation is unresolved and will be so at least until the audit team produces its report. There will not be the usual extensive budget debate as the main opposition party is not in parliament.

These nine citizens have, we believe, expressed in print the wishes of thousands of Guyanes that the two leaders should meet soon and have open dialogue on the many important issues that need to be discussed, including constitutional reform. The country has been in a state of tension for well over three months. Dialogue was meant to be an important part of the menu of measures proposed by the accord and what has taken place so far is a pale shadow of what was anticipated. If the ANC and the National Party were able to have dialogue in South Africa in the midst of strife far worse than anything we have experienced, if the Israelis and the Palestinians can talk, surely our senior politicians can come to grips with the fact that the situation is potentially explosive, can emerge from their respective laagers and without unnecessary protocol or formality agree on a meeting at which all the burning issues can be ventilated openly and in a spirit of compromise. The situation demands nothing less.