'Politicians must listen to people'
By Patrick Denny
November 19, 2002
British Under Secretary of State at the Foreign and Common-wealth Office Baroness Valerie Amos left Guyana yesterday deeply concerned about the current political situation and said the people of Guyana need to be put first.
Speaking with reporters yesterday at the British High Commissioner's residence at the end of her one-day visit, the Guyanese-born British Cabinet Minister said she had also noted with concern the reports of strained relations between the Afro-Guyanese and Indo-Guyanese communities. She was taking away a strong feeling from her talks that "it is very important that the government and the opposition come together and discuss some key issues, for example the crime situation, for the good of the country".
The crime situation was one of the issues Baroness Amos said had been raised with her including the difficulties the Police face. Other issues raised included drugs, the political situation and the state of the economy, in the face of the impending visit by the International Monetary Fund, and the restructuring of the sugar industry.
The issues were floated in meetings Baroness Amos had with President Bharrat Jagdeo, PNC/R leader, Desmond Hoyte, WPA parliamentarian, Sheila Holder and a GAP executive member.
The British Minister said the ROAR representative was unable to attend the meeting at which the GAP/WPA representatives were present because of scheduling difficulties.
The Baroness also met with a number of prominent Guyanese including Social Partners representative, Dr Peter deGroot, Major Generals (rtd) Norman McLean and Joe Singh, retired Commissioner of Police Laurie Lewis, Elections Commission Chairman, Dr Steve Surujbally, the former chairman and secretary of the parliamentary oversight committee on constitutional reform, attorney-at-law, Moses Nagamootoo and Haslyn Parris respectively, and former member of the Constitution Reform Commission, Miles Fitzpatrick SC.
She described her visit as making sure "I remain engaged and informed about the situation here in Guyana so that Britain can give whatever support it can, particularly in support of the political processes which are ongoing at the moment."
She said the British High Commissioner, Stephen Hiscock "is engaged in discussions with the Social Partners and with the Commonwealth and others in terms of us giving support".
Asked to comment on the progress being made by the Commonwealth Secretary General's envoy, Sir Paul Reeves in restarting dialogue between President Jagdeo and Hoyte, Baroness Amos said that it was too early to make assessments as Sir Paul had only visited Guyana twice. He is due to visit again in early January.
Baroness Amos said the important thing "is for the people of Guyana to understand and recognise that there is international support; that the Commonwealth is engaged; that the United Kingdom and other donors who are giving money to Guyana are also very keen to see some kind of resolution of these issues of concern for the national interest."
"That's the key thing - that the people of Guyana are the ones who need to be put first. They have concerns and those concerns need to be listened to and there needs to be a mechanism that allows those concerns to be put on the table".
She described the initiatives by the Commonwealth and the Social Partners to bring the government and opposition to the table as complementary and that the British Government supports both of these. But she said, "this is something that the people of Guyana need to work on together. What we can do is to work behind the scene to support those processes."
Commenting on their discussions with Baroness Amos two of those with whom she met, told Stabroek News that the meeting was satisfactory. However, the WPA's Sheila Holder said that she had no illusions as to what would be the outcome of the Baroness' visit as the British government supported the PPP/C administration.
She said that she had impressed upon the British minister that it was not a matter of the opposition trying to get into power by the backdoor as the government purports. She said she had told Amos that the issue was about governance and that the masses are frustrated and angry at a system that is unfair to them.
Holder said she had impressed upon the minister that the opposition took no pride in complaining about the government but felt that the donor governments must demand accountability to ensure that the funds they donate are used for the purposes intended.
She said too that these governments also have an obligation to help Guyana to become a true democracy and not be blinded by the outward trappings such as periodic elections that are only ethnic censuses.
This is the baroness' second visit to Guyana this year. She was here earlier this year for the CARICOM-UK forum.