Wind of change, or a mirage?
By Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
February 9, 2003

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AT THIS troubled period, when Guyana remains in the grip of a crime crisis that has deeply wounded Guyanese of all races, classes and political persuasions, there seems to be a new wind of change blowing, slowly but encouragingly, across the scarred landscape.

At times of crises, it is always better to nurture hope than spread despair. There now seems good reasons for a glimmer of hope for a positive response from the major opposition People's National Congress/Reform to the governing People's Progressive Party/Civic's standing offer to get back on track the long suspended bi-partisan dialogue.

That hope has sprung from the election a week ago of Robert Corbin, the long-serving, militant foot-soldier of the PNC as the new leader of the party, years before it acquired its `reform’ wing - in the manner of the PPP's `civic’ component.

Since then, he has done more than going public with his declaration that he was "open to constructive engagement" with the administration of President Bharrat Jagdeo and, by extension, the PPP/C.

He has since visited Annandale, a village severely afflicted by the criminality of armed gangs, as a follow-up, it appears, to his earlier visit to Buxton, the village which has earned the dubious reputation as a `criminal sanctuary’ - much to the agony of its great majority of decent, law abiding villagers.

Traumatised for months by the scale and severity of heavily armed criminals who have virtually pushed the security forces on a defensive footing, the Guyanese people are anxious for any straw in the wind that suggests a shift away from confrontation between the country's dominant parties to a resumption of dialogue that, hopefully, could have an immediate impact in blunting, if not annihilating the criminal offensive.

And then move on to the resolution of outstanding issues like implementation of constitutional reform that would understandably be linked to the PNC/R ending its boycott of Parliament.

Prior to his expected overwhelming endorsement at the February 1 special delegates congress to succeed the late Desmond Hoyte as leader, Corbin had initiated a meeting with Commissioner of Police, Floyd McDonald, to discuss the challenging crime and violence problem.

It was a signal that, for the PNC/R, was long overdue. For, while Hoyte lived, his party's attacks were frequent on the Police Force for, among other things, alleged acts of brutality and executions during anti-crime activities.

The PNC/R was then even opposed to joint police/army anti-crime patrols with some of its activists on television `programmes’ doing their damnedest to spread race hate and encourage criminals as they lambaste the security forces.

Hoyte had placed on "pause", some ten months ago, the high-level dialogue that was started in 2001 between him and President Jagdeo to seek solutions to a range of social, economic and political issues.

The suspension of the dialogue by the PNC/R coincided with the party's boycott of Parliament, a situation that still prevails and which needs to end with both the governing PPP/C and the PNC/R making new and serious efforts to overcome hurdles so that the perceived "wind of change" could become both refreshing and meaningful.

Corbin's moves
Corbin's initiative to meet with the Police Commissioner last month; his declaration at his party's special congress in favour of "constructive engagement" with the government and promise to "keep open the lines of communication" between his party's Chief Whip in Parliament and the PPP/C's Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, all offer the promise of a new approach in the resumed dialogue process.

This, of course, does not mean that the PNC/R's quarrels over alleged misuse of police powers, or claims about the government's failure to implement decisions for removal of grievances on social and political issues, have come to an end with the death of Hoyte and the election of Corbin as new party leader.

In the real world of party politics in Guyana, such expectations have no basis. Rather, slowly, tortuously, both sides appear to be inching towards closing of a yawning gap that has clearly been exploited by the criminals in their onslaught on a tragically polarised society.

The alacrity with which President Jagdeo moved to extend his letter of congratulations to Corbin on his election as PNC/R leader, is itself another welcome indicator of a changing mood for the better. Our region does not boast of a tradition of major political parties sending congratulations to each other's "elected" leaders.

Jagdeo's congratulatory note to Corbin and the PNC/R's tentative conciliatory gestures, could, therefore, be viewed as a symbolic peace offer at a time when Guyanese, at home and in the Diaspora, are anxious for the security forces to win the battle against the criminals who have brought such tremendous losses, pain and fear.

Writing in this column last month, on January 12, on Corbin's "options" as PNC/R leader, I said:

"His controversial 'militancy' may have earned him the now undesirable reputation of an inflexible, hard-line decision-maker. This may no longer be accurate and we could yet be surprised by his capacity for flexibility, very much as Hoyte was to prove as President after the passing of Burnham..."

I had further observed that while it would be unfair, unrealistic for anyone to look to Jagdeo to assume the stature of a Cheddi Jagan or to Corbin to be a Desmond Hoyte, the current post-Hoyte scenario for the PNC/R makes it very much `Corbin's call’ on the way forward and away from the politics to make "Guyana ungovernable".

Jagdeo's response
Well, after Corbin's election, Jagdeo's congratulations and the PNC/R leader's letter accepting the invitation to resume the dialogue process, we simply have to monitor developments that, presumably, would include Corbin being elected as the new constitutional Opposition Leader and end of the boycott of Parliament

Arrangements are already underway, resulting from communication between Jagdeo and Corbin, for representatives of both major parties to meet to pave the way for the first official meeting of the President and new Opposition Leader.

Since one-hand can't clap, it would be very much the task of both sides, the PPP/C and PNC/R, Jagdeo and Corbin, to move with sincerity and purpose to end the impasse over at least some of the problems advanced by the PNC/R to justify its boycott of Parliament.

It would be good to know that after the years of negative, confrontational politics that have been so much a feature of the PNC/R, that party is now about to compete with the PPP/C for the moral high ground on the way forward.

This could prove quite a challenge, one that may well influence some significant changes in rhetoric and action on the part of the governing party.

Significantly, the PPP/C has already signalled its preparedness to accept, in principle, the PNC/R's proposal that cabinet ministers should not be appointed on parliamentary sectoral committees.

There is, however, an understandable caveat. That is, it would be helpful if the PNC/R, in turn, agrees to a constitutional amendment to facilitate the appointment of an increased number of technocrats as cabinet ministers to avoid the government being placed at a disadvantage in finding sufficient candidates for the sectoral committees.

As the saying goes, where there is a will there is way. At stake is the national interest of Guyana - its peace and harmony of its diverse peoples; its stability and progress.

Surely a way could be found through dialogue, in a spirit of compromise and flexibility, to give substance to what is being cautiously perceived as a welcome "wind of change".

Or is it all just a mirage? It cannot be. It must not be. The criminals, the anarchists, purveyors of race hate and destabilisation of the "wild west" media must not be allowed to have the last laugh. Over to Jagdeo and Corbin and their respective party decision-makers.

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