The birth pangs of a nation Editorial
Stabroek News
August 27, 2002

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One of the tragic consequences of ongoing political instability and the crime wave is that citizens do not have the energy or focus to give attention to the multitude of things that should be an essential part of normal existence and that give meaning to life.

The development of our country is itself an enormous and exciting challenge. It will take all our energies and intelligence. A perusal of the National Development Strategy will reveal the many areas in which progressive steps can be taken to facilitate progress. But none of this can happen where there is a state of turmoil and most businessmen are concentrating on survival, not expansion.

The challenge is to create stability while maintaining an open society. People must get to the stage where they feel a sense of confidence for the future, where they are willing to make long term investments, where they and their children will work, study and build. At the moment it's all struggle and debate and no building. There is a tremendous diversion of energy.

There are so many things in life other than politics. But in Guyana we are suffering from an apathy that springs from the general disenchantment and alienation, the result of the never-ending political struggle. This seems, in a sense, to consume everything else.

Yet perhaps we can see this period and its tremendous suffering and upheaval as the birth pangs of a nation. Perhaps we can see it as the beginning of an attempt to come to grips with all those problems which were inherited but which due to inexperience and a lack of understanding on our part were not examined at the time of the accession to formal independence in l966, when in any event the country was caught up in what was essentially, in a long term view, an irrelevance, namely the cold war ideological struggle.

We can see clearly now that what we have to do, ourselves, is to work out the terms on which we can live with each other, the system of governance we require and the kind of society we want to live in. Some of this work has already been done in the process of constitutional reform though perhaps we ought to look at this with fresh eyes. We must also recognise that much of what we already have is valuable and useful and should not be discarded (the rule of law, our several fundamental rights protected by the constitution) but essentially we need to consider again whether the Westminster model inherited from the British is adequate in our circumstances. There is no simple answer to this problem. We may have to experiment in good faith. Without good faith, of course, the whole thing becomes a cynical manoeuvre to obtain power which would be inherently unstable.

We are undertaking now the task undertaken by the mature democracies over centuries. The United Kingdom only completed its modern Westminster system of parliamentary government with universal adult suffrage in the last century after many upheavals (as someone pointed out, living in sixteenth century England might also have led one to despair about the future) and that system itself continues to evolve (devolution, the changes in the House of Lords). In America there was a civil war over the institution of slavery and to this day, many advocate changes in the system of government because of a perceived slowness and even gridlock when one party has the presidency and the other has control of the Senate and/or House of Representatives.

No system is written in stone but changes cannot and should not be undertaken lightly. They must be an attempt to resolve real problems in good faith. The founding fathers in America were imbued with the theories of Montesquieu and other European thinkers. It would be useful for our politicians to bring some level of theoretical understanding to the table, though in the final analysis what they need to do is to attempt to think their position through as clearly as they can so they can achieve a good understanding of what type of system and security they are after. That will enable them to formulate their case intelligently and to engage in constructive debate, in which certain compromises may have to be made.

This is a time for reflection and sober counsel. Otherwise, we will continue to have what we have now, all struggle and no progress. If this continues much longer the eventual reconstruction will be infinitely more difficult, given the continuing depletion of human and material resources.