Guyana Chronicle
February 23, 2003

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ON THIS 33rd anniversary of Guyana's republican status, the urgency for cooperation between the Government and Parliamentary opposition seem greater than ever.

Therefore, despite the hasty, emotional announcement last week by the People's National Congress/Reform to resume its almost year-long boycott of Parliament that followed failure to win government support for a complex resolution, strenuous efforts must be made, on all sides, to compromise in the national interest.

The government may have goofed in opting to put the resolution to a vote instead of adjourning the session for subsequent resumption to facilitate further bi-partisan dialogue.

Dr. James Rose, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Guyana, in a very thoughtful analysis on the need for "productive engagement", has observed, as reported in yesterday's `Chronicle’:

"Guyana's greatest need now is for a sense of national unity and for the widest possible commitment to a set of common goals. Those common goals should not be too difficult to define and to agree upon, given the urgency of a number of obvious tasks, the broad similarity in the practical content of the platforms of the main parties, and given too the constraints upon freedom of action imposed by the practical necessity of adopting financial and economic policies acceptable to the international agencies..."

President Bharrat Jagdeo and PNC/R leader Robert Corbin would be aware of the concern articulated by Dr Rose. The hope is that when they meet, as is widely expected, and soon, they would be able to tell the nation something really new and promising for social harmony and economic progress through dialogue, consultation, inclusiveness, or whatever mode - instead of confrontation and opportunistic politics.

The PNC/R has just concluded a "strategic leadership retreat" at which, it said, there were "openness, frankness and honesty" in discussions on the party's "restructuring and repositioning".

Surprisingly, therefore, whatever may have been the contributions of "a sparkling range of Guyanese intellectuals" who facilitated "openness and frankness" at the retreat, according to a PNC/R's press statement last Thursday, the party has lost little time in resorting to its old policy of boycotting parliament while its parliamentarians happily continue to draw from the national treasury.

It is a policy that raises serious questions about the political morality that the PNC/R is fostering at a time when criminal and lawless elements are combining to make a mockery of the security forces and the courts - as two shocking examples at Friendship Village and at the Georgetown Magistrates Court on Friday would support.

Is there now to be another long period of payment to parliamentarians who see no need to be in Parliament? It needs to be asked whether the government itself may, unintentionally be a party to a collusion in the undermining of parliamentary democracy by consenting, through the Speaker, to endless extensions of leave of absence for PNC/R parliamentarians.

Shocking silence
Also to be questioned is the shocking silence on this issue by the "leaders of civil society" - private sector, labour unions, religious organisations and NGO? Collusion by silence, I guess, and not complimentary to their own standing.

There is nothing in the PNC/R's case on the need for improved governance to justify the immorality of its parliamentarians receiving money from the national treasury, month after month, while refusing to participate in the parliamentary process. Such behaviour breeds cynicism. Worse, it fosters lawlessness and destructive politics. Did the party's "strategic retreat" give consideration to this issue?

Intellectual resources mobilised for any "strategic" planning, whether by a major political party, a government, or any civil society organisation, must have a level of recognisable independence to be effective in "facilitating" discussions and guiding decisions. When too close to the action, too emotionally and ideologically involved, such "intellectuals" can hardly be viewed with the independence and integrity required.

Nevertheless, let it be said that the "strategic retreat" was itself a welcome development in this early post-Desmond Hoyte period when Guyanese from all strata of society are anxious to see signs, across the political spectrum, for new initiatives that could offer hope to a severely traumatised people.

It would have been encouraging, for example, if the PNC/R had agreed to end its boycott of the national flag-raising ceremony and to participate in the Mashramani Float Parade.

However, since its boycott of parliament is to resume, and given the years of such negative politics, this would have been too radical a change. Yet, the current situation in the country seems to cry out for radical changes - on all sides, governing and opposition. Changes that are being hampered by too much self-righteousness.

If there is really to be an end to the current political impasse, the PNC/R would need to move away from the obsession by some within its ranks for executive power-sharing and concentrate on a pragmatic approach with the governing party to conflict resolutions.

Those civil society "leaders" who have traditionally been identified with the political opposition but like to be perceived as being "independent", have a particular responsibility at this time to influence a positive shift in thinking for the way forward. For its part, some elements in the decision-making structure of the PPP/C need to remove their blinkers that are frustrating flexibility.

Finally, while looking forward to that elusive political breakthrough when the high-level dialogue process resumes, one senses deep anxiety over the capacity, and commitment, of the security forces to effectively bring under control the criminals and the lawless in villages along the East Coast, and the Buxton-Friendship area in particular. They are virtually laughing at the army and police and, in the process, further hurting this nation.

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