PNC demands exceed those of any other opposition party
Stabroek News
April 8, 2002

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Dear Editor,

Once again we are seeing another tantrum being exhibited by the People's National Congress/Reform (PNC/R). This time they have decided to boycott the National Assembly during the Budget presentation and debate. It is not clear when they will return to Parliament, if at all.

Their excuse is that they are in total disagreement with the proposed composition of the several sectoral committees to be set up as a result of the dialogue process between President Jagdeo and Opposition Leader Desmond Hoyte.

The absurdity of their contention has been exposed by numerous letters to the media as well as by the President himself and several ministers during the budget debate.

Not only are the PNC/R demands unreasonable but they are dishonest and mischievous. They not only want parity with the government but they are also demanding the chairmanship of these committees. If parity is conceded, the work of the government will grind to a halt because the PNC will scuttle the government's legislative programme by refusing to reach accord on any issue. As Minister Persaud pointed out, which government will give up its right to govern?

Mind you, the PNC/R never made these proposals to the Constitution Reform Commission (CRC) and the Constitution is very clear about the composition of these Committees, i.e. the government should have a majority.

One would expect that the proposal for a rotating chairmanship of these committees would have been an acceptable solution to the problem. It also demonstrates the honesty and good intentions of the PPP/C Government in trying as far as possible to get the PNC/R to behave like a normal opposition party.

But truly, the PNC/R has been given quite a lot of representation, even beyond what they themselves had expected. They are almost a government in opposition, with powers no other opposition in the world possesses. Let the PNC/R spokesmen inform us of any country where the opposition have been accorded so much power.

We keep hearing that our situation is unique and that we should come up with a constitution which both reflects and respects our diversity. There is no doubt about our diversity as the festivals of Holi and Easter, falling almost simultaneously, demonstrate.

But are there not other, perhaps more diverse countries in the world? We can cite examples such as India, Indonesia, many African countries including South Africa, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, etc. even the United States has sizeable populations of minorities, and our southern neighbour, Brazil is also a multi-racial country. But we never hear about such unreasonable demands. Even if there are issues which have a racial element in these countries, they are resolved in a civilized and amicable way. But the PNC/R is contemptuous of public opinion in this country, knowing full well that once it plays that race card, it is assured of a certain level of support.

The PNC must realise that the issue of constitutional reform is a long drawn-out process and that the issues must be given time to be well discussed and debated. We do not want to make another mistake like the imposed 1980 Constitution by rushing into constitutional reform and discovering later that the amendments were unsound. Time must be given for the proper ventilation of views, and experts and constitutional commissions must have a chance to peruse the proposed amendments and then to pronounce on them. If a positive view of the proposals is extended, only then can we move in the direction of constitutional change.

The dialogue between the President and the Opposition Leader, though very important, cannot determine constitutional change in this country. This process must be more structured and inclusive.

Finally the opposition and its supporters must realise that an opposition cannot get everything that it demands. No self-respecting government will accede to all opposition demands, especially one on constitutional change. The PNC must appreciate that the process has advanced very far and that there has been a huge qualitative change in the way Parliament operates. If it desires further changes, then it must continue to work unobtrusively but effectively, to get those changes. The present strategy of the PNC amounts to bullyism; if it cannot be a government in opposition, then it is not averse to doing great harm to the country. And every time it issues these threats, it only serves to accelerate the depopulation of this country.

Those who truly have the interest of this country at heart must call on the PNC to desist from its chosen path of gradually strangling this country.

Yours faithfully,

Hemraj Jaggernauth