The Government has failed. It has failed at the most fundamental level, namely, in maintaining law and order. Surely that is the primary duty of any administration. Nothing can happen without that; there can be no normal life and no economic development if citizens walk in fear on the roads, or cower demoralized in their homes wondering when and where the next strike will come.
As it is the Government is simply playing at being a government. It skips around the regions inviting absolutely everybody's opinion on the crime situation; it pursues a relentless propaganda war against the PNC/R in lieu of a relentless war against the criminals; it complains about the sensationalising of crime in the media and the miniaturising of positive developments, as if by not headlining crime the reality would change; it blames the critics of the police for undermining the capacity of the force to perform, despite the well-publicised transgressions of the Target Special Squad in the Thomas Carroll case; in short, it blames everyone and everything but its own weakness, indecisiveness, poor judgement and simple lack of action. The Government, in other words, has demonstrated not just that it is incapable of ensuring the safety of citizens, but that it is also in denial about that lack of capability.
When this newspaper, among others, some time ago proposed that the Government invite the PNC/R to discussions to hammer out a common position on the crime situation, we certainly did not have in mind the current exercise in futility which is taking place under the auspices of the Minister of Home Affairs. The best that can be said about that particular exercise is that it is an excuse for doing nothing, and an excuse for not holding genuine talks with the PNC/R, while at the same time appearing to engage them.
Surely the Government is running out of excuses. Call in the PNC/R, and do it at the highest level. (Any such discussion would clearly have to be quite independent of the dialogue process.) Get a political agreement in principle, which could, for example, potentially encompass such things as bi-partisan support for a limited state of emergency and an official investigation into the operations of the Target Special Squad (among various other possibilities). The security chiefs should also be included at one or more meetings to advise at least the Leader of the Opposition about the technical issues, and invite his input.
At some point all the Parliamentary parties should be brought in to contribute their perceptions and help craft a common statement on crime. If thereafter it was felt necessary for the political leaders and the President to meet one or two bodies, such as the Private Sector Commission, which could offer material assistance in some limited area, then that no doubt could also be done. Amorphous public discussions with a wide range of bodies and individuals, however, should be avoided.
One rather suspects that the PPP/C's inability to grasp the necessity of consensus with the opposition on the matter of crime arises from its overly simplistic analysis of the situation, and its failure to recognize that this is not an exact reprise of what has gone before. What appears to be confusing the administration is the fact that the radicals who are associated with the bandits are working with the same constituency as the PNC, as well as the fact that within the body of the party there are radical sympathizers. That the main opposition appears to have lost control of its support base in certain areas owing to a lack of work over the years, seems to be the clear implication of some of the remarks made both by Mr Hoyte in his address to Congress, and Mr Clarke in his report.
Interestingly, the PNC/R executive has publicly recognized the fact that the bandits are threatening the very fabric of the state, and in addition to giving that public analysis, it has now twice stepped across the line and offered dialogue on the question of crime. The Government has made no meaningful response (other than the pantomime with the Minister of Home Affairs), and continues with its propaganda, despite the fact that paradoxically, as far as can be judged in the current circumstances, it is not in its own party interest to undermine the executive of the main opposition.
Of course the PPP/C does not trust the PNC/R, and given its bitter experience in the past that is eminently understandable. But there are times in history when a government has to rethink its assumptions in response to the changed circumstances. At this dangerous point in the evolution of Guyana it should not by its hostility and pride be giving room to the radicals in the opposition to shape the party line and tip the scales in a direction which would plunge us all into the vortex.
Even if it is not convinced by this argument, it should ask itself a simple question: does it have anything to lose by reaching across the divide to truly engage the PNC/R? The answer is no. If something comes out of the engagement, then that must be to the benefit of the nation; if nothing comes out of it we will be in the same position as we are now and the Government will have to do that which so far it has studiously avoided, and take the necessary action on its own. For reasons which hardly need elaboration, however, it would be so much easier if that action had the backing of all the political parties, but more particularly, the PNC/R.
All of which does not mean to say that the PNC/R does not have responsibilities in the current conditions. It must give the PPP/C - always a slow party to respond to initiatives - enough space to re-orient itself, and must cease its own relentless anti-Government propaganda which makes it that much more difficult for the administration to respond rationally. Most important, it must demonstrate good faith by beginning the programme which it had adverted to during its Congress, namely the reorganization of the party at the grass roots level. It should begin immediately talking to its constituents in the radicalized areas, with a view to changing attitudes, and in the long term of re-asserting party discipline.
We are, of course, in a political crisis as well as a crime crisis; however, in terms of order of priorities, the crime situation must be confronted first - and with some urgency. It is for the Government to make the next move, just because it is the government. It should be beyond the point of pretending to itself that it has not failed. Its inaction and its state of denial have brought us to the edge of disaster. It must not let hubris or lack of nerve stand in the way now of easing us back from the brink.