Amidst all the unprecedented criminal incursions for the past six months, as if the ongoing political instability was not enough, there have been one or two encouraging developments. Both have to do with initiatives taken by civil society.
The first was the initiative undertaken by the Private Sector Commission, the Trades Union Congress and the Guyana Bar Association. This initiative by the three social partners, as they are now conveniently called, was started several weeks ago in an effort to facilitate a resumption of the dialogue between the government and the main opposition party which had been suspended because of complaints by the opposition that projects agreed by committees set up under the dialogue process had not been implemented. That initiative was overtaken by the need to deal with the crime wave that is threatening all citizens as a priority. The social partners approached three expert advisers on security issues who drafted a paper outlining a way of dealing with the crime. Meetings have since been held with the People's National Congress (PNC), the People's Progressive Party (PPP) and the government to discuss this paper and it is hoped to now arrange a meeting between President Jagdeo, the Leader of the Opposition, the other parliamentary parties and the social partners with a view to achieving agreement on a common strategy.
These three major civil society organisations through their representatives Messrs Peter de Groot, Lincoln Lewis and Nigel Hughes, have quite properly and admirably taken on themselves the civic duty and responsibility to try to break the political impasse that had arisen with the discontinuation of the dialogue and the withdrawal of the PNC from parliament. This is precisely the kind of initiative members of civil society should undertake in a democratic society and they and their advisers must be congratulated on their efforts. It really is not enough to sit around and complain about our politicians and their failings. Active and self confident citizens and representatives of major organizations must consider it their democratic right to speak out responsibly but forthrightly on current issues of the day and to criticise the behaviour of government and opposition politicians in a proper and constructive way.
In the same vein, the members of the recently formed pressure group Unite Guyana, the Association of Regional Chambers of Commerce and supporting groups must be congratulated on their effort to protest against the patent failure to deal with the crime wave for many months by calling for a commercial shutdown of the country for one day which evoked a widespread response. The group stated quite clearly that it had no political connections or motivations. No law was broken and no intimidation was exercised. It was a classic, fully constitutional protest, inspired by a few energetic citizens. Citizens have been living in fear for months and have been frustrated beyond measure by the failure of the government to take meaningful action to tackle the criminals. They have also felt that the main opposition party could have done much more to help by publicly advising its supporters at Buxton not to give shelter to criminals and by taking a much more forthright position on the whole issue.
Citizens have spoken out, they have been heard, it is a beginning. They are in effect proclaiming that they are not just voting fodder, that they have opinions of their own and that they deserve to be heard. From this growth of civic consciousness can spring a more enlightened attitude to our political situation. Dare we hope that more citizens may start to look beyond ethnic boundaries and to challenge the tunnel vision of their political leaders?