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THE Guyana Government, in collaboration with the United Nations, yesterday successfully conducted a half-day workshop under the theme 'UN Support for Building Social Cohesion and Reducing Tensions in Guyana'.
Participants engaged in meaningful discussions and found no difficulty in, among other things, formulating a list of guiding principles deemed necessary for an atmosphere of civility and cooperation.
Workshop coordinators - Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr. Roger Luncheon and United Nations Resident Coordinator to Guyana, Dr. Bernadette Theodore-Gandi both acknowledged that Guyana has recently embarked upon a new phase in its political and democratic development through the 'Constructive Engagement' between President Bharrat Jagdeo and Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Robert Corbin. This is evidenced by a landmark joint communique on May 6.
Theodore-Gandi noted that the UN, in an invited response to current tensions within Guyana, has been in discussion with the Government and other stakeholders on developing initiatives to effectively manage them.
It is in the context of this political breakthrough and cognisant of the fact that much work remains to be done to realise the gains of recent weeks, that the Office of the President and the UN organised the workshop, held at the Ocean View International Hotel, Liliendaal, East Coast Demerara, and to which a wide range of stakeholders was invited.
Using the communique and the UN offer of assistance as a basis, the purpose of the workshop was to firstly, reflect on opportunities to maintain and build on the momentum achieved in the past weeks, and secondly, to develop guiding principles that all stakeholders might agree are necessary to embrace in pursuit of an atmosphere of civility and cooperation.
Luncheon, in opening remarks, noted that late last year and in response to the Government's requests to international and bilateral sources for assistance, the UN fielded a mission to Guyana that was at the time in the throes of escalating crime and gross citizens' insecurity.
He noted too, that in February 2003, President Jagdeo extended an invitation to Corbin, the newly elected Leader of the main Opposition People's National Congress Reform, "to meet anytime, any place, so as to, among other things, discuss the restoration of political normalcy".
According to him, the UN mission submitted its report and recommendations and Corbin accepted President Jagdeo's invitation, and arising from that decision, the recently released communique was born.
"We are gathered here today in the shadow of those two events. I suspect 'events' hardly represent what actually took place, but the historians would pronounce on that.
"In our midst are the stakeholders, all imbued with a resolve to intervene in Guyana's best interests and to work to bring an end to the extremes in our current situation," Luncheon told participants.
Stated Luncheon: "We are fortunate to have available information about the experiences of states with similar such problems and more importantly, the lessons learnt. Even more importantly, we had the communique and the real expectations that it has created. Our task, and surely not ours alone, nonetheless is to draw on those antecedents and address the realities of Guyana."
Reflecting on the social environment and specifically those aspects dealing with political stability, Luncheon said there is much in the agreements in the communique that exposes the concerns that both leaders have about the "primacy of political stability" or "normal politics".
"Indeed, a convincing argument can be made that the communique itself is testimony to the convictions that both leaders have about establishing or re-establishing the primacy of normal politics," he asserted.
"The maturity that the leaders exhibited at this particular period in their respective tenure in office must be acknowledged and admired," he said.
Luncheon said too, that the communique is "a work of commitment (which) bespeaks of mature judgement". However, he noted, "more can and must be done than recognising and admiring maturity of the leaders".
He also admitted that governments are understandably urged to embrace and practice good governance, but that today, the demands of good governance are seen more as in inter-play of responsibilities extending way beyond governments' exclusive obligation.
"All are involved in this paradigm that has evolved and will likely endure. And this activity today expects to have contributions from all and thus fulfill the thrust of that paradigm," he posited.
On the issue of good governance, Luncheon declared that he would like to be the first to admit that it is fundamental to development.
"The more that state parties subscribe to and accede to its tenets, the more good governance has become entrenched in the domestic and international discourse on development," he contended.
He also insisted that "it is a recipe for bringing about 'normal' politics", observing that what is becoming most evident is the 'all are involved' aspect of the governance paradigm.
In this regard, he told participants, "essentially, we are here as stakeholders, to explore the possibilities held out by the agreements in the communiqué to constructively harness social energy for nation building, all embracing good governance as the operating system for all our applications dealing with normal politics and nation building".
"We are here to merge the efforts in realising those possibilities with practical interventions that are thrown up at this, what is essentially, a brainstorming activity," he added.
Luncheon also asserted that everyone accepts that good governance promotes social stability by reducing tensions in societies. He reasoned that logically then, interventions to reduce social tensions and support social stability must reflect good governance.
According to him, the resources available to the State extend beyond its employees and contract workers. As such, full mobilisation of resources cannot exclude civil society participation since in Guyana's reality, it is a resource that must be aggressively cultivated.
"While the communiqué is explicitly silent on that issue, within it there abound opportunities for proactive engagements (and) it would be impossible for anyone to ignore the current realities affecting civil society participation in our national culture," he added.
Luncheon also feels the Government must reach out and take the initiative to heighten its engagement with civil society at both the national and regional levels.
"To fully engage, we all have to re-examine and resolve the issue of legitimacy, especially when foreign interests promote advocacy by civil society actors," he said.
"To be meaningfully consulted demands legitimacy which is fundamental to, and a derivative of the practice of good governance (and) immediately, I want us to recognise the implications of my arguments and moreso the onus that it places on us all," he told the participants.
"I am insisting that as we accept the role of non-State actors, we must recognise their responsibilities and obligations," he added.
For the benefit of the international community, Luncheon said he recognised the "value of knowledge of best practices and exposure to lessons learnt" but not the reverence for this principle due to its limitations. In this regard, he insisted that while preaching it is understandable, action is more often what is required.
"Tangible results must be sought in our engagement (since) the issues that we have to address are simply too complex for too much a reliance on advice," he said.
The highpoint of the workshop was group interactions, excellently handled by Mr. Lawrence Latchmansingh, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Programme Analyst for Governance, and Mr. Chris Spies, a South African Consultant on Conflict Management.
Latchmansingh and Spies distributed candies to participants, and based on the colour of their candy-wrappers, they were separated into four working groups in which they discussed two essential questions. The first dealt with developing guiding principles that enhance constructive engagement by building social cohesion and reducing tensions, and the second, exploring opportunities for building on constructive engagement from the perspective of governance, healthy politics and civil society.
Arising from these discussions, two lists of guiding principles and opportunities were created - accountability of those within the process; accept that we all make mistakes; commitment to understanding and respecting each other; public sharing of information; continuous feedback and consultations; recognise different approaches and building consensus; establish clear timelines to build confidence; clarify objectives in terms of what we wish to achieve; keep discussions broad based; maintain trust to relationship; need for mediating mechanism; need to identify with precision the issues/problems to be addressed; treat all views equally; focus on bigger picture; expand decentralisation/devolution of authority and mechanism for public education and feedback.
Among those participating were PNCR executive member, Mr. Lance Carberry; Guyana Action Party/Working People's Alliance member, Ms. Sheila Holder; Director of the Government Information Agency, Dr. Prem Misir; Information Liaison to the President, Mr. Robert Persaud; Guyana Elections Commission official, Mr. Goocool Boodhoo; Bishop Juan Edghill; former broadcaster and media consultant, Mr. Hugh Cholmondeley and Attorney-at-Law, Mr. Hubert Rodney.