Bishop Singh urges main parties to work together on crime fight
Says criminal gangs appear to have clear political motive
Stabroek News
July 27, 2002

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Roman Catholic Bishop Benedict Singh has appealed to the two main political parties to work together on a strategy to halt the cycle of violence bedevilling the country.

The Bishop also said that the tragic Rose Hall siege on Monday, coming so soon after the July 3 incident when protestors stormed the presidential complex, suggests that criminal gangs are operating with a clear political motive.

In his "letter to the faithful" on Wednesday, Bishop Singh said further that "political developments reek of an insidious plot to destabilise the very foundations of our political and economic systems."

He is contending too that the unstable political situation characterised by the deteriorating relations between the government and the main opposition creates conditions that are conducive to conflict and strife.

The Roman Catholic Bishop posited that "criminal violence flourishes whenever, instead of sitting down to resolve their differences, political leaders resort to force."

The bishop said that he had noted since June that political tensions have been accompanied by an increased outbreak of armed criminal attacks, and the link is by no means coincidental.

"Politicians who flirt with the use of terror do so at their own peril, (and) the beast that is nurtured in the process will eventually turn on its keepers," he warned.

Bishop Singh rebuked irresponsible talk show hosts, saying that they have been cresting the wave of untruths and malicious rumours sweeping Guyana, and on a daily basis they "spew selective indignations and sly insinuations, manipulate information and discredit opponents without any regard to ethical standards."

He said that the media should be an instrument to enlighten people's minds, instruct their thoughts, and direct their path to what is truthful. But instead, the bishop observed, sections of the media in Guyana assail people's sensibilities and spread hatred and division, while blurring all distinction between what is right and what is partisan.

"I make an impassioned plea to owners of television stations and those empowered to promote high standards of ethical behaviour within the media, to examine closely the programme content of local television," the bishop appealed.

Calling on Guyanese to commit to forthrightness, he urged that they call things by their rightful name. Bishop Singh, declaring that there should be no double standards, stated that "murder is murder, no matter the motive or nature, the beating, robbing and terrorising of persons simply because of their race must be called by its rightful name, (and) the destruction of the property of businesses must be called by its rightful name."

He underscored too that "the killing of policemen must be called by its rightful name, the unlawful deaths of citizens at the hands of the police must be called by its rightful name, (and) the open advocacy of social strife must be called by its rightful name."

The Roman Catholic church leader urged Guyanese citizens to reject violence as contemptible and all political parties to denounce those who exercise it as a means of imposing their will on others.

He asserted too that the country's "leaders must not only be willing to call things by their proper names but also to condemn those who by deeds and words contribute to the decline in the social order."

Referring to July 3 as a sad day in Guyana, the Bishop lamented that it was made sadder by the lack of remorse of some leaders who played no small part in the events which led to the invasion of the presidential complex when two protestors were shot dead, and looting, arson and violence against persons followed.

"When leaders cannot own up to their own mistakes, then the truth becomes compromised," Bishop Singh declared.

Following the General Elections of last year, he noted, he had called for a collective response to the crisis, pointing out that the future development of the country hinged upon the willingness of the losers of those elections to accept defeat and upon the generosity of the victors.

According to the bishop, "not only have our leaders let us down, but we have disappointed our own aspirations by not calling them to book on this issue."

"The Church," the leading clergyman stated, "can never subscribe to force being used as a weapon to extract concessions from another side, but at the same time we recognise the need for there to be genuine and meaningful dialogue based on compromise, trust, good faith, and the desire to act for the promotion of the common good." In his view, he said, the breakdown of the dialogue has exacerbated tensions in the country and unless there is a political solution to the present impasse, the situation is likely to worsen.

In that regard, he is calling on the leaders of the two major political parties, the ruling PPP and the opposition PNC/R, to formulate and support an agreed strategy to bring criminal attacks on persons and destruction of property under control "as a matter of the highest national and moral priority."

"If they fail to act together in the face of this national crisis, to help focus the efforts of all law-abiding Guyanese to halting the wanton murders and attacks on citizens, they cannot escape their share of moral responsibility for the senseless loss of life and further deterioration in our country," Bishop Singh maintained.

Pointing out that he is a Buxtonian, he said that he was particularly disturbed by the events on the East Coast and the numerous attacks and destruction to property in the Buxton-Friendship area.

Historically, the Bishop observed, the people of Buxton have lived well with each other and with neighbouring villages.

"The events of the past year have hurt the good name of the village and I call on the leaders of that community to do all that is possible to ensure that harmony is restored in these relations," he encouraged.

And in a direct plea to the country's political leaders, the Bishop said: "Give this country a chance to live. Demonstrate that moral and spiritual courage inherent in the act of forgiveness. Show strength not in the power of force or grandstanding, but in a real commitment to reconciliation."