The first good news the nation has heard in a long while came yesterday, when following the joint consultation between the politicians and the social partners, comprising the Private Sector Commission (PSC), the Guyana Bar Association and the Guyana Trades Union Congress, it was announced that agreement had been reached as to how the consultation would proceed. If that doesn't sound like anything too dramatic to citizens, it has to be remembered that in the context of a dialogue on 'pause,' the trading of merciless rhetoric between the two largest political parties and a major crime crisis with an underlying political crisis, it really does constitute progress.
There was further good news in relation to this meeting - perhaps small news in other circumstances, but more significant now - and that was that both the major parties had a team of people on hand. In the case of the PPP/C in particular, that was helpful, if only because the perception has been that since the President is not the leader of his party, questions could always be raised as to whether decisions arrived at on a one-on-one basis between himself and Mr Hoyte, say, had the backing of the Executive Committee.
The other little glimmer of good news coming out of this encounter was the fact that it lasted under two hours. The meeting had earlier been threatened with a boycott by President Jagdeo, although a compromise was hammered out by PSC Chairman, Dr De Groot, at five minutes to midnight, so to speak. Dare we hope, therefore, that this first exchange produced less wrangling than otherwise might have been expected?
The Social Partners have commendably limited the parameters of the coming discussions to the crime situation - clearly the first priority - and the implementation of constitutional reform measures which have already been agreed. This means that the potential, at least, exists for consensus between the politicians on essentials, however limited, which is sorely needed in our present conditions.
Prior to the meeting, President Jagdeo had indicated that the range of organizations encompassed among the Social Partners was too limited in scope, and that others should be added. While the composition of the facilitators can clearly be negotiated, one can only hope that the numbers do not become too large and unwieldy, because large, amorphous groups are not conducive to the mediation of agreements. The issue is not how representative the facilitators are - although clearly it is the right of the politicians to object to one or another individual on the grounds of his or her impartiality having been compromised - but whether they are adept at oiling the wheels of dialogue. In other words, it is not the Social Partners who will be making the agreements, it will be the politicians.
What the Government and the Opposition have done by meeting through the agency of the Social Partners, is to raise the expectations of the electorate. In circumstances where the forces of darkness are burrowing away beneath the foundations of the state, it is important to create an officially declared space where all the political parties can be located - at least on the matter of crime and how to deal with it. The politicians will dash the hopes of the citizenry at their peril.
One of the impediments to discussions prior to this time has been the fact that the two main political entities in this country had imprisoned themselves in their own rhetoric, thereby allowing themselves no face-saving escape routes.
The Social Partners have now provided one, and an anxious people therefore expects that the politicians will exercise far greater restraint in their utterances than they have done hitherto so as not to jeopardise the coming negotiations.