The dialogue process is not useful
Stabroek News
February 19, 2002

Dear Editor,

Recent statements by the two major parties in relation to the ongoing dialogue between their leaders caught my attention and elicited the following comments. As someone who is unashamedly anti dialogue --the Jagdeo Hoyte dialogue I have repeatedly contended that for all its contribution to a welcome cease fire between the warring camps, it is in the long run a platform for more intense conflict. Contrived peace is worse than the war it seeks to stop, for it raises people's hopes of a resolution when it cannot resolve anything. In the end the warring factions blame each other for frustrating the resolution, and the war resumes with double vengeance.

This, of course, is not the wish of any right thinking Guyanese, but our political motion has consistently defied rightness. Part of the problem is that our leaderships have never confronted our inevitable difficulties head on; they invariably find a way around them. Anything that suggests a minimizing of their power, even if it promises to advance nationhood and collective security, is avoided at all costs. Guyana's political class is divided racially, but united in its definition of power and where it ought to reside. This is the fate of the dialogue. At the centre of it is the question of the ethnic distribution of power, especially between Africans and Indians. Yet this central issue is not on the agenda. Why? In my humble opinion, to put it on the agenda is to invite a whole host of outstanding issues that speak to how the society handles power not only from an ethnic standpoint but also from a class standpoint. That then introduces the fundamental tenet of democracy-mass participation in decision making. Not simply mass participation in marches and rallies, but in actual decision making or what is popularly called empowerment.

The dialogue has not dealt with empowerment of the ordinary Guyanese because it refuses to settle the fundamental issue of the racial and class distribution of the power of decision making the major issue that engendered the dialogue. Instead, the dialogue has been a political game for the two parties. Since the game cannot continue for much longer, the two parties are now jockeying each other to see who will take the first plunge to suspend it. They can then go to their supporters and blame the other side. But are these two top dogs serious? Remember this is the second round of dialogue. The first one, compliments of Herdmanston, floundered even though there was a referee.

Dialogue between hostile parties is sustained when there are tangible incentives to do so or when there are concrete results. If the issue is the distribution of power, particularly ethnic and class distribution, then the survival of the dialogue hangs on a shift in the balance of power. There has been no shift in the balance of power simply because the issue of the distribution of power has not been properly put on the table. Because both parties are wedded to the consolidation of power in the hands of the political class of one party or the other, they are more concerned with demographic shifts and ethnic crossover votes than shifts in the balance of power at the top and between the top and the bottom. Hence all the foolish talk of Indian migration and African crossover votes.

My reading of the situation is confirmed by the two parties recent comments on the dialogue. The PNC's General Secretary in a letter to Stabroek News (February 12) makes the following points.

1. The PNC's leadership is united on the dialogue.

2. The PPP's leadership is divided on the dialogue. Mr. Jagdeo is for it and others are against it.

3. This division within the PPP will lead to the failure of the dialogue.

4. The success of the dialogue hinges on a commitment to inclusive governance.

While I believe that the PNC leadership is united on the need for the dialogue, I think there is disagreement on the purpose of the dialogue. Some want the dialogue to play for time while others want it to engender concrete changes in the ethnic distribution of power. I doubt the PNC's seriousness in positing that there is disagreement within the leadership of the PPP. But if they are, it's a serious mistake. There is every incentive for PPP unity on the dialogue as it is currently manifested. That unity will break only if the dialogue threatens the PPP's hold on power.

Mr. Jagdeo is a delegate of the PPP; the positions he takes to the table with Mr. Hoyte are Freedom House's positions which were articulated by its General Secretary, Mr. Donald Ramotar (Chronicle February 11). Making reference to the dialogue, Mr. Ramotar said:... the meeting unanimously supported this process and urged that it continues to contribute to an environment of constructive engagement and cooperation between the Government and the main Opposition party,"

The key words there are "engagement and cooperation." Not inclusiveness and distribution of decision making power. The PPP wants out of the dialogue engagement and cooperation as an end in itself and not as a means to an end, and it is confident that it is achieving that. That is what they are united on. Who in the PPP's leadership would be against that -the best of both worlds? Keep them talking while we govern without humbug.

In order to keep the engagement and cooperation going, Mr. Jagdeo may from time to time agree to certain things with the full knowledge that they would not be implemented. This is how political games operate. Mr. Jagdeo knows that since the decisions of the dialogue are not legally binding, if they favor the PPP, the PPP wins and if they don't favor the PPP, they also win because they are not legally bound to execute them. So when PPP ministers drag their feet on implementing decisions or slow down the work of the committees, they do so as part of the PPP's overall strategy which Mr. Jagdeo must endorse in order to remain as the PPP standard bearer.

If there is any doubt about this reading, here is Mr. Ramotar again: "The report, in noting the ongoing campaign by sections of the political Opposition to frustrate the work of the Government, proffered counter strategies to ensure that the Government is able to implement its development agenda, for all the people, with minimal impediments."

As the old people would say "Pim Pim!" The key there is that the PPP is concerned with carrying out its agenda with no humbug from the dialogue or any other source.

Finally, Mr. Clarke's last point hits at the heart of the problem. Mr. Clarke is correct when he says that the success of the dialogue hinges on a commitment to inclusive governance. But inclusive governance must stress both "inclusive" and "governance". The PNC's position seems to be that the "inclusiveness" at the level of talking must automatically lead to inclusiveness in governance. Wrong. The dialogue has to be part of the governance process for there to be inclusive governance. You can't have inclusive governance when you talk and decide and you don't have the power to implement or veto. As the calyposonian, Chalkdust, in a 1972 classic said, "Somebody got to be mad".

Yours faithfully,

David Hinds

Editor's note

Dr Hinds may be flogging a dead horse. The debate on power sharing in Guyana has been going on and off for about a decade. The leadership of the two main parties are well aware of it. They opted against it during the constitutional reform process initiated as a result of the Herdmanston Accord though there may be some junior members in both parties willing to give it a try.

Mr Hoyte has pointed to the problems of executive power sharing and as experience elsewhere has shown (Fiji, Northern Ireland, Belgium) these are serious and cannot be minimised.

Dr Hinds may also underestimate the value of the dialogue process. There have been problems and delays but at the very least it has established a better working relationship between the two leaders and between their respective party members who sit on the various committees. There have also been some achievements, several committees have submitted reports and one is working for consensual local government reform. We believe Mr Hoyte was right when he referred to it as a very important innovation.

The debate on power sharing can continue but we believe it is a mistake to ridicule the dialogue process.

Finally, what exactly does Mr Hinds mean by "mass participation in decision-making?"